Zinke de­nies re­port that he lied to in­ves­ti­ga­tors

The Mercury News Weekend - - NEWS - WASHINGTON By The Associated Press

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.

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