Report: Grand Jury Hearing Evidence That Ryan Zinke Lied to Federal Investigators

Ryan Zinke in August 2018.
Photo: Pablo Martinez Monsivais (AP)

Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke—who used to be one of the nation’s top environmental officials until he resigned last year amid a slew of ethics scandals and investigations—has apparently failed to leave his troubles behind with his backwards ranger hat.

Per a Friday report by the Washington Post, prosecutors are currently showing evidence to a grand jury that Zinke lied to federal investigators looking into his handling of commercial casino petitions by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes. The two tribes had sought to open a casino in Connecticut off reservation land, and had struck a deal that had won approval by Interior officials, but Zinke shot down their request.

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Prosecutors believe that Zinke lied to his agency’s inspector general office about his reasons for doing so, the Post wrote, mirroring claims in a lawsuit brought by the Mashantucket Pequot and the state of Connecticut that he buckled to pressure from casino-friendly GOP members of Congress:

The tribe has questioned whether Zinke was improperly influenced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) and then-Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), both of whom have received contributions from MGM Resorts International. The company ranked as Heller’s second-biggest contributor between 2011 and 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, giving him $57,450 during that period.

Attorneys representing the tribes and the state of Connecticut amended their complaint Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The filing says that Heller called Zinke on Sept. 15, 2017, just hours before Interior issued its final decision, to pressure him not to approve the casino application.

According to Politico, Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said that “The Department cannot comment on matters in litigation or investigation.” When reached by Politico, Zinke responded, “Have a great day, bye-bye.”

There’s no indication as of right now whether the feds’ case involves any Zinke’s other scandals, which during his tenure, allegedly entailed at least 17 ethics probes.

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That number included a sketchy land deal in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, in which a foundation founded by Zinke and run by his spouse struck an agreement with a development group backed by David Lesar, the chairman of oil contractor Halliburton. Last year, the New York Times reported that Interior investigators had referred the matter to the Justice Department, certainly creating the impression that he could face criminal charges. However, as of early January, the Associated Press reported that Interior investigators had not yet released their findings on that matter, indicating that Zinke’s troubles get still get worse.

Zinke, for what it’s worth, is now the managing director of an investment firm focused on blockchain technology, something that surely couldn’t go poorly either.

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[Washington Post]

Correction: The planned casino was off, not on, reservation land. We regret the error.

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Tom McKay

"... An upperclassman who had been researching terrorist groups online." - Washington Post