Aug 25, 2022 - Politics & Policy

Ryan Zinke misled investigators as interior secretary, watchdog says

Republican Ryan Zinke, a contender for Montanas second congressional seat, at an event on July 24, 2021 in Emigrant, Montana.

Ryan Zinke at an event in July 2021. Photo: William Campbell/Getty Images

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke "knowingly provided incorrect, incomplete, and misleading answers" to federal investigators over a tribal casino application when he served in the Trump administration, according to a new report.

Why it matters: Wednesday's report by the Department of Interior's inspector general marks the second time the I.G. has found Zinke made false statements when he served in the role. Zinke, the Republican nominee for Montana's new House seat, disputes the findings.

Driving the news: Inspector general Mark Greenblatt's report found that both Zinke and his-then chief of staff (COS), Scott Hommel, "made statements that presented an inaccurate version of the circumstances" in which the Department of Interior made key decisions about the casino.

  • "As a result, we concluded that Secretary Zinke and the COS did not comply with their duty of candor when questioned about their respective involvement in the DOI’s decision."

The big picture: Zinke resigned from the Department of the Interior in 2018 under a cloud of scandal and multiple ethics probes, Axios' Andrew Solender notes.

  • The department's internal watchdog found last February that Zinke broke federal ethics rules for his continued involvement with a land development project in Montana. Zinke's campaign called the findings "a political hit job."

What they're saying: Danny Onorato, an attorney for Zinke, said in a statement on Wednesday that his client had "cooperated fully in a politically motivated investigation," per the New York Times.

  • "Secretary Zinke repeatedly told the inspector general that he was not subject to any influence in that matter because he lacked jurisdiction to act on the application," Onorato said.
  • "That should have ended the inquiry. Instead, on the eve of an election, the I.G. has released a misleading and inaccurate report that suggested Secretary Zinke lacked candor in his interview with I.G. agents. That is wrong."

Read the report in full, via DocumentCloud:

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