The Justice Department has reportedly launched an investigation to determine whether former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to his agency’s inspector general.
The public integrity section of the Justice Department is investigating whether Zinke — who officially stepped down from the Interior Department on Wednesday — knowingly lied to his department’s general investigators, according to people familiar with the matter who spoke to The Washington Post.
Such an act would potentially be a criminal violation, and could deepen the former Interior secretary’s legal troubles.
Zinke — a Republican congressman from Montana before President Donald Trump nominated him to lead the Interior — stepped down amid mounting investigations into his work. The former secretary faced two separate inspector general inquiries regarding a real estate deal in Montana and his involvement in a proposed Native American casino in Connecticut.
In the course of the investigations, according to The Washington Post, investigators believed Zinke lied, and they have referred the matter to the Department of Justice. It’s not clear exactly what Zinke might have lied about. However, sources for The Washington Post say it isn’t about the Montana land deal that involved the chairman of oil giant Halliburton.
Zinke announced in mid-December that he would be leaving the Interior at the end the month, blaming “false allegations” and the costs to defend himself.
“I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together,” Zinke said in a statement on Twitter at the time. “However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations.”
If he stayed as secretary of the Interior, Zinke would have likely faced numerous committee hearings in the House of Representatives, which is now controlled by the Democratic Party.
In response to the Justice Department’s reported involvement, a Zinke spokesman said he participated voluntarily in interviews regarding the Connecticut casino matter, and answered questions “truthfully” and “to the best of his knowledge.”
Zinke reportedly fell out of favor with Trump after he declined to challenge Montana Democratic Sen. Jon Tester during the 2018 midterms. Additionally, Zinke ruffled feathers with the president after he traveled to Florida in January 2018 and announced, without consulting the administration, that the state would be exempt from offshore drilling. (RELATED: Enviros Already Start Their Campaign To Derail Zinke’s Likely Replacement)
David Bernhardt, a former Republican lobbyist and longtime Interior employee, is succeeding Zinke as the acting secretary.
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