Chair Grijalva Issues Statement on Inspector General Report that Former Secretary Zinke Used Office for Personal Gain, Lied to Ethics Officials
Washington, D.C. – Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) today issued the following statement about a report issued by the Office of Inspector General (OIG) at the U.S. Department of the Interior (DOI) finding that former DOI Secretary Ryan Zinke, in pursuing a brewery as part of a larger development near his residential property in Whitefish, Mont., violated his ethics obligations, used federal resources for personal gain, and lied to ethics officials and the media. The report was requested in 2018 by then-Ranking Member Grijalva, Rep. A. Donald McEachin (D-Va.), and Rep. Jared Huffman (D-Calif.).
“Today’s report shows us yet again that former President Trump’s appointees didn’t view their positions at the highest level of our government as an opportunity to serve our country, but as an opportunity to serve the interests of their personal pocketbooks,” Grijalva said.
In the report, investigators found that Secretary Zinke told press and DOI’s Designated Agency Ethics Official that he “had no involvement” in the development known as 95 Karrow. During confirmation hearing investigations, he told Congress he would not manage or “provide any other services” for the Foundation that owned the land the developers needed for 95 Karrow. These statements were contradicted by 64 separate email and text messages uncovered by the OIG. The email below from Secretary Zinke to one of the developers shows he was negotiating the terms of the development:
“The proposed parking lot as drawn is a non starter. When you first presented the parking lot in dc [sic] it was acceptable given that the park would maintain current access and adjust the boundary for a brewery to remedy the current encroachment. The parking lot on the last two versions have greatly expanded the scope. The foundation is willing to provide parking as we submitted twice which is greater than our initial discussion but retains the integrity of the woods and park objectives. Z”
Secretary Zinke portrayed his involvement in the development as a benevolent attempt to create a Veteran’s Peace Park. But the report found evidence that Secretary Zinke was trying to use the Veterans’ Peace Park to force inclusion of a brewery in the development. An email from one of the developers says:
“on quick review, [Zinke] is asking us to transfer ... [a] corner of land (and all utilities) to the Peace Park for the brewery… He is also asking for an exclusive right to produce alcohol on 95 Karrow and the Peace Park. In essence, he is leveraging the parking and snow storage for the Brewery lot and legal access to his site. In my opinion this is a big ask.”
Former Secretary Zinke, his wife, and the developers refused to cooperate with the OIG during the investigation.
A separate OIG investigation into Zinke’s official actions regarding a casino in Connecticut was reportedly under consideration by a grand jury because Zinke lied in that investigation as well.
The Department of Justice (DOJ) declined to prosecute the OIG’s findings. Secretary Zinke is no longer employed by the federal government and will not face employment-related penalties as a result of these findings.
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