Ryan Zinke, the Republican candidate for a new seat in the Montana House of Representatives, lied to the Interior Department’s internal watchdog during an investigation into the tribal casino app while he led the department. under the President. Donald Trumpaccording to an official report released on Wednesday.
Zinke and his chief of staff “declared to [Interior’s Office of the Inspector General] with the overall aim of misleading them,” the OIG report said.
“We found that both Minister Zinke and [chief of staff] made statements that presented an incorrect version of the circumstances in which [Interior Department] made important decisions,” the watchdog report added.
“As a result, we conclude that Minister Zinke and [chief of staff] failed to comply with their obligations under questioning. “
Zinke’s alleged lies came in response to questions about his interactions with the department’s attorneys and employees, a US senator and lobbyists for MGM Resorts International. MGM, a casino operator, sought to block applications by two Native American tribes, the Mashantucket Pequots and Mohegans, to jointly build and operate a casino in northern Connecticut.
Zinke countered the report’s findings. He unsuccessfully asked the Inspector General’s office to delay making the report public until after the November election, where he sought to represent the western region of Montana in the new House of Representatives seat.
In a statement Wednesday, his attorney called the report and the timing of its release a “political smear.”
The watchdog’s findings come six months after another report by the Inspector General’s office found that Zinke abused his position as secretary to promote a development project in Whitefish, Montana, his hometown of he.
Wednesday’s report said the Inspector General referred the casino matter to the Justice Department in 2018, when Trump and his attorney general were still in office.
The Justice Department declined to prosecute in the casino lobbying case last year. It also decided not to prosecute in 2021 after receiving a report on the Montana development.
The newly released report details how MGM Resorts International actively opposes Connecticut tribes’ application in a lobbying effort targeting Zinke. MGM operates a casino just across the border in Springfield, Massachusetts.
MGM lobbyists specifically pushed Zinke not to approve amendments to the tribe’s existing gaming agreements with the state of Connecticut, the report said. Connecticut required those amendments in exchange for state approval of casinos, which operated on non-tribal lands.
Zinke eventually sent the amendments back to the tribes without action, stalling their plans.
He later told the Inspector General’s investigators “more than 10 times that he relied on the Deputy Secretary [of Interior] and [department’s Office of the Solicitor’s attorneys] in making its decision to return the Tribal amendments without action,” the report said.
But others did not corroborate Zinke’s claims, according to the report.
An unnamed US senator told investigators he asked Zinke not to approve the tribes amendment in a September 2017 phone call. Zinke told investigators he did not reiterated the senator’s request that he “take a specific position,” according to the report.
“Based on our analysis of Secretary Zinke’s statements, we conclude that he provided a misleading description of the basis for his decision to return the Department’s revisions to the statement. lost,” the report said.
Zinke “repeatedly stated that he has not spoken to anyone outside the agency – including US Senators or industry lobbyists – who have advised him to take a course of action.” other actions,” the report said.
“Given the number and extent of contact with these outside employees, combined with the absence of information that anyone – advisor or other person – within the agency advised on this course of action, we I find that Minister Zinke’s description of the events is incorrect”.
In a statement emailed to CNBC on Wednesday, Zinke attorney Danny Onorato said, “Over four years ago, Secretary Zinke cooperated fully in a politically motivated investigation led by the Attorney General. investigation conducted by the Ministry of the Interior.”
“Minister Zinke has repeatedly told the Inspector General that he is not under any influence in that matter because he does not have the authority to act on the application,” Onorato said. “That should have ended the investigation. Instead, on the eve of the election, IG released a misleading and inaccurate report claiming that Secretary Zinke lacked sincerity in his interview with officials. agent of IG.”
“That’s wrong,” the lawyer said. “The filing here shows that the original draft of the IG report concealed clear evidence, and a federal judge in Washington DC agreed that Secretary Zinke’s position was legally correct. degrading fashion.”
“To put it simply, Secretary Zinke has been completely outspoken in his interview and has been legally vindicated by the Court’s decision. The content of the IG report and the timing of its release will be revealed. see what it is, another political smear,” Onorato said.