Watchdog: Zinke Misused Position Then Lied About It

Feds say former Interior Secretary didn't break from foundation as promised
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted Feb 16, 2022 12:36 PM CST
Watchdog: Zinke Misused Position Then Lied About It
In this Dec. 11, 2018 file photo, then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke speaks at EPA headquarters in Washington.   (AP Photo/Cliff Owen, File)

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke misused his position to advance a development project in his Montana hometown and lied to an agency ethics official about his involvement, according to a report from federal investigators released Wednesday. The investigation by the Interior Department's inspector general found that Zinke continued working with the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation (which he helped established in 2007) on the commercial project in the community of Whitefish, Montana, even after he committed upon taking office to breaking ties with the foundation. The AP reports Zinke and his wife were in negotiations with private developers for the use of foundation land for a commercial development project that included a microbrewery.

The report also said that Zinke gave incorrect and incomplete information to an Interior Department ethics official who confronted him over his involvement, and that Zinke directed his staff to assist him with the project in a misuse of his position. The Washington Post reports investigators subpoenaed the developers' emails and text messages and determined Zinke communicated with them about the project 64 times over a year-long period beginning in August 2017.

Zinke is a candidate in the June Republican primary for an open Montana Congressional seat, a position he held prior to joining Trump’s cabinet, and his campaign called the report "a political hit job." It noted his family's involvement in the foundation had led to the restoration of land that was made into a park where children can sled. Investigators referred the matter to the Department of Justice for potential prosecution but it declined to pursue a criminal case, according to the report. (More Ryan Zinke stories.)

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