When President-elect Doanld Trump announced that Rep. Ryan Zinke, Republican from Montana, was his choice for secretary of interior, he bragged about Zinke's record as a Navy SEAL. Now it turns out that Zinke's record from the Navy SEALs could be his political undoing.
Three former unit leaders and a military consultant claim that Zinke committed travel fraud during his days as a member of Navy SEAL Team 6, according to The Intercept on Tuesday. They claim that, during his days as a mid-career officer at SEAL Team 6, Zinke traveled multiple times to Montana in 1998 and 1999 to renovate his home in Whitefish and visit his mother, but submitted travel vouchers claiming that he was performing official duties. Even after he was caught and instructed to stop, Zinke allegedly continued to engage in this practice.
Although Zinke could have faced criminal charges as well as the end of his military career, senior officers are believed to have instead allowed him to complete his then-current assignment and then informed him that he would not be allowed to return to Navy SEAL Team 6 for future assignments. One of the SEAL Team 6 leaders told The Intercept that Zinke didn't face criminal charges because of how it would impact his family, although another source told the site that the officer who submitted evidence of Zinke's travel fraud was "incensed" about this decision. Three of the sources told The Intercept that Zinke avoided punishment because SEAL Team 6 prefers to avoid public scandal.
Zinke's military career was successful after that point, with Zinke retiring at the rank of Navy commander in 2008. He was elected to Congress in 2014.
Aside from the controversy over Zinke's alleged travel fraud, there are also concerns that Zinke would approve of the selling of federally owned natural lands. His voting record favoring special interests over protecting the environment earned him a 3 percent rating from the League of Conservation Voters.
By Matthew Rozsa
Matthew Rozsa is a professional writer whose work has appeared in multiple national media outlets since 2012 and exclusively at Salon since 2016. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012, was a guest on Fox Business in 2019, repeatedly warned of Trump's impending refusal to concede during the 2020 election, spoke at the Commonwealth Club of California in 2021, was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022 and appeared on NPR in 2023. His diverse interests are reflected in his interviews including: President Jimmy Carter (1977-1981), Israeli Prime Minister Ehud Barak (1999-2001), animal scientist and autism activist Temple Grandin, Secretary of State Madeleine Albright (1997-2001), director Jason Reitman ("The Front Runner"), inventor Ernő Rubik, comedian Bill Burr ("F Is for Family"), novelist James Patterson ("The President's Daughter"), epidemiologist Monica Gandhi, theoretical cosmologist Janna Levin, voice actor Rob Paulsen ("Animaniacs"), mRNA vaccine pioneer Katalin Karikó, philosopher of science Vinciane Despret, actor George Takei ("Star Trek"), climatologist Michael E. Mann, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (2013-present), dog cognition researcher Alexandra Horowitz, Libertarian presidential candidate Gary Johnson (2012, 2016), comedian and writer Larry Charles ("Seinfeld"), seismologist John Vidale, Democratic vice presidential nominee Joe Lieberman (2000), Ambassador Michael McFaul (2012-2014), economist Richard Wolff, director Kevin Greutert ("Saw VI"), model Liskula Cohen, actor Rodger Bumpass ("SpongeBob Squarepants"), Senator John Hickenlooper (2021-present), Senator Martin Heinrich (2013-present), Egyptologist Richard Parkinson, Rep. Eric Swalwell (2013-present), Fox News host Tucker Carlson, actor R. J. Mitte ("Breaking Bad"), theoretical physicist Avi Loeb, biologist and genomics entrepreneur William Haseltine, comedian David Cross ("Scary Movie 2"), linguistics consultant Paul Frommer ("Avatar"), Maryland Gov. Martin O'Malley (2007-2015), computer engineer and Internet co-inventor Leonard Kleinrock and right-wing insurrectionist Roger Stone.