As Secretary of the Interior under Trump, Ryan Zinke faced numerous ethics concerns, racking up 18 federal investigations into his behavior in under two years. Now, over three years after his resignation, his misconduct continues to make headlines. On February 16, the Department of Interior Office of Inspector General (Interior OIG) released a report detailing one of the 18 violations, which found that Zinke had improperly participated in real estate negotiations over a development in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana.
When appointed Secretary, Zinke said he had resigned his position at the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation (“Foundation”). However, the IG found that Zinke and his wife remained involved with the Foundation’s negotiations for a project using their land, an allegation he denied in 2018. OIG reported that Zinke communicated with developers 64 times between August 2017 and July 2018 about his personal interests in the project. OIG referred this matter to the DOJ, but the DOJ declined prosecution in summer 2021.
CREW has requested all records regarding Interior OIG’s findings that Zinke failed to comply with ethical obligations not to manage services associated with the Foundation, provided incorrect and misleading answers in 2018 regarding his involvement with the project, and violated the Standards of Ethical Conduct by misusing his official position to direct subordinates to perform unofficial activities. CREW also has requested all records pertaining to DOJ’s summer 2021 final decision to decline prosecution of Zinke following the OIG’s referral.
During his tenure as Secretary, Zinke and the Interior Department violated many ethics and conflict of interest rules, including failing to report destroyed records, several meetings with special interest groups, and the possible use of government funds for personal travel. Zinke has not been held accountable for these violations. Releasing records on his misconduct and DOJ’s failure to prosecute would be a first step towards regaining transparency and the public’s trust.