Ryan Zinke under investigation for lying to inspector general: report

Trump's former Secretary of the Interior is being investigated for possibly lying to his agency's inspector general

By Matthew Rozsa

Staff Writer

Published January 3, 2019 3:38PM (EST)

Ryan Zinke (AP/Andrew Harnik)
Ryan Zinke (AP/Andrew Harnik)

Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump's disgraced former interior secretary, is under investigation by the Justice Department’s public integrity section over suspicions that he lied to his agency's inspector general.

The underlying issue is whether Zinke misled inspector general investigators over a pair of business deals in which he had been involved, according to The Washington Post. The first business deal in question involved real estate dealings in Montana, Zinke's home state, and the second one involved his role in reviewing a proposed casino bid from two Native American tribes in Connecticut. Although Zinke spoke with inspector general investigators about both of those controversial business deals, they soon believed that he lied to them and asked the Justice Department to look into whether he had broken the law.

The Washington Post elaborated in its reporting:

The department’s public integrity section has since been exploring the case, the people familiar with the matter said. The extent of its work is unclear, though the inspector general had questioned witnesses in an apparent attempt to scrutinize Zinke’s account, one of the people said.

A spokesman for Zinke said Zinke voluntarily participated in two inspector general interviews about the Connecticut tribal matter and “to the best of his knowledge answered all questions truthfully.” The spokesman said Zinke had not been contacted by the Justice Department and that disclosures about the matter violated inspector general and Justice Department protocols.

The Connecticut case is particularly interesting because it raises questions about whether Zinke was unduly influenced by big business in making important decisions. Although officials in the department had been planning to approve an agreement allowing the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to jointly operate a casino, the department ultimately decided against it, prompting the Mashantucket Pequot to file a lawsuit. Interior later recognized the validity of its gaming agreement, but the tribe has continued to press forward and has accused Zinke of succumbing to political pressure by two Nevada politicians, Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei, during a July 2017 dinner.

Zinke's career has been riddled with scandals. In addition to spending $139,000 on new doors for his office suite as interior secretary, harsh attention was paid to Zinke when Whitefish Energy, a company with which he had personal ties and was located in his Montana hometown, received a valuable infrastructure contract with Puerto Rico after the commonwealth was battered by a hurricane. Although there is no evidence that Zinke was directly involved in Whitefish Energy winning that lucrative contract, the coincidence of it being given to that particular obscure company — especially considering that it was widely regarded to be an absurdly poor fit for that task— struck many observers as suspicious.

Zinke has also had a prior history of financial scandal. He was accused of travel fraud during his time as a Navy SEAL for allegedly renovating his Montana home and visiting his mother in his hometown during multiple trips in 1998 and 1999. Although these trips were strictly personal, Zinke was accused of submitting travel vouchers which claimed that he was performing official business.

By Matthew Rozsa

Matthew Rozsa is a staff writer at Salon. He received a Master's Degree in History from Rutgers-Newark in 2012 and was awarded a science journalism fellowship from the Metcalf Institute in 2022.

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