Democrats Pounce On Ryan Zinke Amid News Of Potential DOJ Investigation

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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  • Democrats are using news broken by The Washington Post to go after Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
  • Two anonymous sources told The Post an investigation into Zinke’s conduct was referred to the DOJ.
  • “DOJ will now be able to investigate potential criminal violations,” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal said.

Democratic lawmakers launched a salvo of attacks against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on news the department’s Office of Inspector General referred an investigation into the former Navy SEAL to the Justice Department.

“Sec. Zinke has violated public trust for personal gain far too many times since taking office. In just 20 months on the job, he’s been the subject of 15 federal investigations,” Connecticut Senator Richard Blumenthal tweeted Wednesday morning.

Blumenthal and two Democratic colleagues, Sens. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts and Ron Wyden of Oregon, sent a letter to Zinke demanding he “immediately cease using taxpayer funds for personal gain.”

“DOJ will now be able to investigate potential criminal violations,” Blumenthal said.

Interior Department Inspector General Mary Kendall referred one of its investigations involving Zinke to the Justice Department, according to two sources who spoke to The Washington Post on the condition of anonymity.

The Post’s Tuesday article noted that while Kendall is conducting at least three investigations involving Zinke, the sources “did not specify which inquiry had been referred to the Justice Department.”

One White House official told The Post the investigation Kendall referred to federal law enforcement concerned whether or not Zinke “used his office to help himself.” (RELATED: Report Says IG Refers Probe Into Zinke To DOJ)

However, Zinke’s lawyer Stephen Ryan said the secretary “has not been contacted or notified of any DOJ investigation or Inspector General referral.”

“It is disappointing that unsubstantiated and anonymous sources have described an IG office referral to members of the media, as this violates DOJ and IG policy direction,” Ryan said in a statement to reporters. “The Secretary has done nothing wrong.”

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland

U.S. Secretary of Energy Rick Perry and U.S. Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke speak at the Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) at National Harbor, Maryland, U.S., February 23, 2018. REUTERS/Joshua Roberts.

Kendall’s reported referral to the Justice Department comes on the heels of reports she was about to be replaced by a political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD), Suzanne Israel Tufts.

Kendall is only the acting head of the Office of Inspector General, but the news sparked outrage among Democrats and environmentalists already critical of Zinke’s management and policies.

However, Interior Spokeswoman Heather Swift told reporters Tufts would not be moving to Interior to replace Kendall. Hours later, Kendall’s office released a report claiming Zinke had violated some department travel procedures, though his office disputed the claims.

House Democrats demanded investigations into Zinke’s activities on news of Kendall’s DOJ referral.

Democrats on the House Committee on Natural Resources started the hashtag #InvestigateZinke, tweeting, “[l]ooks like we’re not the only ones concerned with Secretary Zinke’s multiple scandals and pretending to be above the law.”

In the event of a “blue wave” this election, Democrats vowed to use their control of committees to investigate Zinke’s running of the department.

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