Zinke denies report that he lied to investigators
BILLINGS, MONT. » Newly departed U. S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told The Associated Press on Thursday that he’s been truthful with investigators looking into numerous ethics complaints against him and rejected as inaccurate a report that he’s under investigation for lying.
Zinke’s comments came in response to a Washington Post story alleging that the Justice Department’s public integrity section was examining whether the former Montana congressman lied to investigators from Interior Department’s office of inspector general, which provides independent oversight of the agency.
In his first interview since he stepped down on Wednesday, Zinke says the allegations are false and appeared to have been leaked to undermine his accomplishments as head of a department responsible for managing about 500 million acres of U. S. lands, primarily in the West. He resigned last month after Democrats critical of Zinke’s tenure regained control of the House of Representatives in the November election.
The shift in power was expected to lead to a wave of oversight hearings amid numerous ethics investigations involving both Zinke’s work as secretary and dealings outside office. They include his decisions to block two tribes from opening a Connecticut casino and a land deal that he pursued with the chairman of energy services company Halliburton.
As Interior secretary, Zinke pushed to develop oil, natural gas and coal beneath public lands in line with the administration’s business-friendly goals.
The Associated Press reported in November that the inspector general’s office referred an investigation of Zinke to the Justice Department. The Post story, citing anonymous sources, says Interior investigators came to believe Zinke lied to them and referred the matter to the Justice Department.