Ryan Zinke broke ethics rules as Home Secretary, investigation finds

WASHINGTON — Ryan Zinke, the former Interior Secretary, abused his position and lied to investigators about his involvement in a land deal in Montana, repeatedly breaking federal ethics rules, an official said Wednesday. government watchdog.

The Inspector General of the Department of the Interior found that during his tenure, Mr. Zinke continued to negotiate with developers over a housing project in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont. His involvement violated an ethics agreement he signed upon taking office not to participate in such matters.

Mr. Zinke, a candidate for Congress from Montana, was the subject of several ethics investigations while serving under President Donald J. Trump. His campaign did not respond to repeated requests for comment, but called the report a “political stunt” in a statement to The Associated Press.

In 2007, Mr Zinke helped establish a charitable foundation, the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation, and in March 2017 he stepped down as chairman as part of the ethics accord. But from August 2017 to July 2018, Mr. Zinke and the project’s developers exchanged emails and text messages about foundation land use plans for a parking lot and a proposed microbrewery, investigators said. Mr. Zinke, according to the report, “played an extensive, direct and substantial role” in representing the foundation during the negotiations.

When asked about his role in the negotiations, Mr Zinke knowingly misled an investigator, the report adds. Despite his great involvement in the project, Mr. Zinke told the investigator that he merely helped his wife file tax returns for the foundation and did not represent the foundation in any way.

Additionally, the Inspector General discovered that Mr. Zinke had abused his office for personal gain when he asked his staff to arrange a meeting with developers at his Home Office office and print documents related to the real estate project.

But the report says Mr. Zinke did not violate federal criminal conflict of interest laws because the deal did not involve official departmental questions. And although one of the promoters was an executive at energy giant Halliburton, Mr Zinke had done nothing in his official capacity to benefit the company or the executive, the inspector general found.

The review of the deal began in June 2018, when Politico reported on the involvement of Mr Zinke and the Halliburton executive. (Halliburton’s link raised concerns of a conflict of interest given that the company could be affected by Home Office policies on oil and gas drilling on public lands.) The Inspector General of the Interior Ministry opened his investigation that summer and referred his findings to the Ministry of Justice. , who declined to press charges.

As Secretary of the Interior, Mr. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL and Montana’s only House member from 2015 to 2017, promoted Mr. Trump’s energy policies. He opened up millions of acres of public land to drilling and made headlines when he rode a horse for his first day on the job. He resigned in January 2019 as it faced numerous investigations into its ethical conduct, including its policies and business dealings. Mr. Zinke has repeatedly denied wrongdoing. In a statement announcing his intention to resignMr Zinke said he could not ‘justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations’.

Other investigations into Mr. Zinke include his decision to block a proposal by two Native American tribes to expand the operation of a casino in Connecticut. And in 2018, a government watchdog concluded he violated department policy by having his wife accompany him in government vehicles.

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