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Departed Interior Sec. Zinke Under Investigation by DOJ

Politics
Ryan Zinke at Fort Peck, Montana in June of 2018. U.S. Department of the Interior

The Justice Department is looking into whether former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to investigators at the Department of Interior, The Washington Post reports. Anonymous sources tell the Post that investigators at the Interior's inspector general's office raised the issue with the DOJ after suspecting Zinke may have lied during questioning over his real estate deals in Montana and his review of a Native American casino project in Connecticut.


The Justice Department has not yet decided whether Zinke should face legal action, the Post reports. Zinke, who left the agency Wednesday following a series of high-profile scandals, denied the allegations to the Associated Press, blaming conservation groups for creating a "playbook" designed to use "frivolous allegations, sources, rumors, innuendo and false accusations" to boot him and other Cabinet members from office.

As reported by The Washington Post:

"Zinke, who submitted his resignation last month, had faced intense pressure to step down because of the probes into his conduct, though President Trump had soured on him for other reasons, too, according to one of the people familiar with the matter. In particular, this person said, Trump was upset Zinke would not challenge Sen. Jon Tester (D-Mont.) in last year's election and over how Zinke handled the administration's plan to expand offshore drilling.
Last January, Zinke flew to Florida and, without consulting the White House, announced in a news conference with then-Gov. Rick Scott (R-Fla.) that Interior would exempt the state from offshore drilling. The move raised ethics questions, along with an outcry from other governors whose coastal states were affected by the plan."

The Associated Press reported that Zinke blamed conservation groups such as Montana Conservation Voters and Western Values Project for making it "impossible for Zinke and other Trump Cabinet members to serve."

"A representative of Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund, Whitney Tawney, noted that the group had endorsed Zinke when he was a state lawmaker but expected more out of him in terms of protecting natural resources.
'The accusation that groups like Montana Conservation Voters Education Fund made his job impossible proves once again that he's continuing to point fingers at anyone he can instead of accepting responsibility for his own failures,' Tawney said."

For a deeper dive:

The Washington Post, AP

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