U.S. investigation finds that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke misused position
Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke misused his position to advance a development project in his Montana hometown and failed to disclose details of his involvement when questioned by ethics officials, a federal investigation has found.
The report, released Wednesday by the Department of Interior's Office of Inspector General, centers on the former Trump Cabinet member's affiliation with the nonprofit Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation, which he and others established in 2007, and a development called the 95 Karrow project.
The report shows that Zinke and his wife were in negotiations with developers to build a commercial project on a portion of the foundation's land in Whitefish, Mont.
Investigators found that Zinke did not comply with his ethics obligations, in which he agreed not to manage services associated with the foundation. Investigators also found that he misused his authority to direct subordinates to help with the project.
Zinke left his post at the Department of the Interior at end of 2018 after serving for two years amid mounting misconduct allegations. Now, the Republican is running to return to Congress, with an endorsement from Trump.
The Department of Justice declined to step in
Last summer, the U.S. Department of Justice declined to prosecute on the matter after investigators referred findings. The latest report was prepared for the current interior secretary, Deb Haaland.
In a statement provided to NPR, Zinke's campaign called the investigation "a political hit job" and "false information."
The statement adds that the investigation did not include conversations with Zinke or any of his staff. According to the Inspector General's report, attorneys for Zinke, his wife and the 95 Karrow project developers declined to be interviewed.
The investigation relied on subpoenaed emails and text messages.
In one email to a developer in 2017, Zinke — while serving as interior secretary — offered input on design elements of the project, adding that "the foundation is happy to partner with you on the proposed project."
A July 2018 memo from Department of the Interior ethics officials shows that when Zinke was questioned, he denied "substantive involvement in foundation matters."
The investigation also concluded that Zinke's staff did not attempt to conceal his involvement with the project or the foundation and that he did not violate conflict-of-interest laws.
Raúl Grijalva, D-Ariz., who chairs the House Natural Resources Committee, said in a statement: "Today's report shows us yet again that former President Trump's appointees didn't view their positions at the highest level of our government as an opportunity to serve our country, but as an opportunity to serve the interests of their personal pocketbooks."
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