Investigators Find Zinke Violated Ethical Obligations in Whitefish Development


Just weeks after Ryan Zinke lied about his abortion record before hundreds of witnesses, all in the pursuit of his bid to become the state’s next congressman, Federal watchdog investigators have found that the scandal-plagued, former Interior Secretary lied to an ethics agency about his involvement in a commercial development project in his hometown and “misused” his position within that role, according to their report.

According to the Associated Press:

The investigation by the Interior Department’s inspector general found that Zinke continued work on the commercial project through a nonprofit foundation in the resort community of Whitefish even after he committed upon taking office to break ties with the foundation.

Zinke, who is now running for Congress, also gave incorrect and incomplete information to an Interior Department ethics official who confronted him over his involvement and ordered agency staff to help him with the project in a misuse of his position, according to the investigator’s report.

Back in 2007, Zinke create The Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation, which had a goal to develop and create a large community sledding hill within the park in the town of Whitefish. Four years ago when he was named Interior Secretary, he agreed to resign as the foundation’s president, recusing himself and cutting ties in order to avoid any conflict of interests with his job.

He didn’t do this, however, but rather instead made “repeated, ongoing substantive negotiations” with the developer to get the project going and developed further. This includes a year’s worth of email and text message negotiations, as well as meetings with developers in his D.C. headquarters negotiating such things as transferring lands for a microbrewery project and discussing his desire to have “exclusive right to produce alcohol” on the site, all things he pledged not to do.

The report reads:

“Emails and text messages the developers produced showed that Secretary Zinke continued to be involved in Foundation matters while he was Secretary of the Interior, even after resigning from the Foundation and committing in required documentation to relevant Federal officials that he would no longer manage or provide services to the Foundation.

Specifically, the communications showed that Secretary Zinke repeatedly communicated with the developers of the 95 Karrow project and negotiated with them on behalf of the Foundation by discussing the use of Foundation property for the project, specific design aspects of the project, and the development of a microbrewery on the property.”

In light of these communications, we found that Secretary Zinke failed to abide by his ethics obligations in which he committed not to manage or provide any other services to the Foundation after his appointment as Secretary of the Interior. We also found that Secretary Zinke did not comply with his duty of candor when questioned by the DOI’s then Designated Agency Ethics Official (DAEO) about his continued involvement in Foundation matters, including the 95 Karrow project. In addition, we found that Secretary Zinke misused his official position in violation of Federal regulations by directing his subordinates to assist him with matters related to the Foundation and the 95 Karrow project.”

While he certainly abused his position and played fast and loose with the truth, which is no surprise to us, the report notes that there was no formal conflict of interest and that there is no evidence he leveraged his role in an official, government capacity or made naked appeals to developers under the authority and threat of his powers.


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