Watchdog: Ex-Interior head Zinke lied during casino probe

Aug 24, 2022, 1:39 PM | Updated: 9:13 pm
FILE - Montana House candidate and former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke speaks onstage at an eve...

FILE - Montana House candidate and former Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke speaks onstage at an event hosted by Butte-Silver Bow County Republicans at the Copper King Hotel and Convention Center, May 13, 2022, in Butte, Mont. An internal watchdog says Zinke lied to investigators about conversations he had with lobbyists, lawmakers and other officials regarding a bid by two Indian tribes to operate a casino in Connecticut. (AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

(AP Photo/Matthew Brown, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Former Interior secretary Ryan Zinke lied to investigators about conversations he had with lobbyists, lawmakers and other officials regarding a bid by two Indian tribes to operate a casino in Connecticut, the department’s internal watchdog said Wednesday.

Zinke, now the Republican nominee for a new House seat in western Montana, made statements to investigators “with the overall intent to mislead them,” a report by Inspector General Mark Greenblatt said.

Both Zinke and his former chief of staff, Scott Hommel, ” presented an inaccurate version of the circumstances in which (Interior) made key decisions” on the casino project, the report said. “As a result, we concluded that Secretary Zinke and (Hommel) did not comply with their duty of candor when questioned.”

Zinke’s campaign could not immediately be reached for comment. But a letter from Zinke’s attorney, included in the report, said the finding that Zinke lacked candor was “wrong and without merit.”

In comments to investigators, Zinke called the report’s timing — less than three months before the November election — “disturbing and improper.” He asked that the report’s release be delayed until after the election. Greenblatt, who was nominated by former President Donald Trump, denied Zinke’s request, saying a delay “could be perceived as a political purpose and would be inconsistent with our typical processes.”

In an Aug. 3 letter from the law firm Schertler, Onorato, Mead & Sears, Zinke’s attorney called the IG’s report “distorted and misleading” and said it “fails to clarify that Secretary Zinke did not adopt the position of any lobbyist for or against the (casino) project.” The lawyer’s name is redacted in the IG report.

Zinke was accused of acting improperly on a request by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes in Connecticut to open a casino on non-tribal land in East Windsor, Connecticut. The request required federal approval. The proposed site was close to a casino planned by Las Vegas-based MGM Resorts in nearby Springfield, Massachusetts. The MGM casino opened in 2018.

Zinke did not approve or reject the tribes’ request, instead sending it back to the tribes in September 2017.

The lack of action led to a federal ethics investigation, one of several against Zinke, who served as Interior secretary from March 2017 to January 2019. The state of Connecticut and the tribes also filed a lawsuit in 2017, alleging that improper and undue political influence, including from MGM, was behind the decision not to sign off on the agreements.

Among those Zinke talked to during his deliberations was then-Sen. Dean Heller, R-Nevada, who told investigators he asked Zinke not to approve the tribes’ request. Heller said he believed Zinke lacked authority over the project because gaming would not occur on tribal lands. He also said representatives of MGM explained to him how approval of the request would allow the tribes to open a casino only 13 miles away from — and in direct competition with — the Springfield site.

Both Zinke and MGM have denied any wrongdoing. In a 2019 interview with The Associated Press, Zinke also denied reports that he may have lied to Interior’s inspector general, saying he was asked twice about the casino decision and was truthful both times.

The inspector general’s office ultimately shifted its focus from the casino decision to whether Zinke and Hommel, his chief of staff, were truthful in their statements.

Zinke’s Democratic opponent, Monica Tranel, tweeted that “one of the most common refrains I hear is that voters want someone in Congress they can trust. Based on his actions, it’s clear we can’t trust Ryan Zinke.”

The Connecticut tribes ultimately decided to set aside plans for the jointly owned casino, citing the need to focus on their two existing casinos that have been hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic.


Associated Press writer Susan Haigh in Hartford, Conn., contributed to this report.

Copyright © The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.


FILE - Celina Washburn protests outside the Arizona Capitol to voice her dissent with an abortion r...
Associated Press

Arizona abortion rights backers sue to overturn old ban

PHOENIX (AP) — Supporters of abortion rights on Tuesday sued to block an old Arizona law that criminalizes nearly all abortions, arguing that laws passed by the state Legislature after 1973’s Roe v. Wade decision should take precedence and abortions should be allowed until 15 weeks into a pregnancy. The lawsuit filed by a Phoenix […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Closing prices for crude oil, gold and other commodities

Benchmark U.S. crude oil for November delivery rose $2.89 to $86.52 a barrel Tuesday. Brent crude for December delivery rose $2.94 to $91.80 a barrel. Wholesale gasoline for November delivery rose 17 cents to $2.68 a gallon. November heating oil rose 17 cents to $3.54 a gallon. November natural gas rose 37 cents to $6.84 […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

AP Explains: Voting systems reliable, despite conspiracies

ATLANTA (AP) — Former President Donald Trump and his allies have whipped up a relentless campaign of attacks against voting equipment since his loss in the 2020 election. After nearly two years, no evidence has emerged that voting machines were manipulated to steal the election or that there was any widespread fraud. Conspiracy theories spread […]
13 hours ago
FILE - New Hampshire Republican U.S. Senate candidate Don Bolduc speaks during a debate Sept. 7, 20...
Associated Press

Another shift for NH GOP Senate candidate on 2020 election

HUDSON, N.H. (AP) — Don Bolduc isn’t making a full about-face, but the Republican nominee for Senate in New Hampshire can’t seem to stop shifting his position about whether the 2020 presidential election was legitimate. The retired Army general claimed during his primary campaign that the White House race was stolen from former President Donald […]
13 hours ago
Associated Press

Teen sought in ambush outside school that killed 1, hurt 4

PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Police are seeking a 16-year-old youth in last week’s ambush shooting outside a Philadelphia high school that killed a 14-year-old and wounded four other teenagers after a football scrimmage Police said Tuesday that the 16-year-old is wanted on active arrest warrants for a charge of murder and multiple counts of attempted murder […]
13 hours ago
A protester carries a piece of wood simulating a weapon during a protest demanding the resignation ...
Associated Press

Haiti at breaking point as economy tanks and violence soars

PORT-AU-PRINCE, Haiti (AP) — Daily life in Haiti began to spin out of control last month just hours after Prime Minister Ariel Henry said fuel subsidies would be eliminated, causing prices to double. Gunshots rang out as protesters blocked roads with iron gates and mango trees. Then Haiti’s most powerful gang took it a step […]
13 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Day & Night Air Conditioning, Heating and Plumbing

Ways to prevent clogged drains and what to do if you’re too late

While there are a variety of ways to prevent clogged drains, it's equally as important to know what to do when you're already too late.
Sanderson Ford

Don’t let rising fuel prices stop you from traveling Arizona this summer

There's no better time to get out on the open road and see what the beautiful state of Arizona has to offer. But if the cost of gas is putting a cloud over your summer vacation plans, let Sanderson Ford help with their wide-range selection of electric vehicles.
Dr. Richard Carmona

Great news: Children under 5 can now get COVID-19 vaccine

After more than two years of battle with an invisible killer, we can now vaccinate the youngest among us against COVID-19. This is great news.
Watchdog: Ex-Interior head Zinke lied during casino probe