Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated federal ethics rules through his involvement in a land development project in Whitefish, Montana, during the time in which he served in the Trump administration, a report released Wednesday by the department’s inspector general (IG) revealed.
Zinke’s wife, Lola, oversaw the land development deal, known as 95 Karrow, as part of her position as president of the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation (GNVPP). Although he formally stepped down from the board upon his appointment as secretary in 2017, Zinke participated in the deal despite pledging to stop participating in the foundation’s corporate activities, according to the report. Zinke resigned his position as Interior Secretary in December 2018, less than two months after the Interior IG referred his conduct to the Justice Department.
GNVPP became involved in the 95 Karrow project, which included the creation of “a mixed-use development consisting of a hotel, microbrewery, restaurant, and other businesses,” after 95 Karrow, LLC purchased a fourteen acre vacant lot next to GNVPP land. Lola Zinke submitted a letter to 95 Karrow, LLC in September 2017 informing the company that GNVPP would not oppose the development. However, according to the IG report, Ryan Zinke drafted the letter, and submitted it with his wife’s signature.
In addition, emails and text messages obtained by the Interior IG “show[ed] that Secretary Zinke played an extensive, direct, and substantive role in representing the Foundation during negotiations with the 95 Karrow project developers.” (RELATED: Ryan Zinke Fires Back At Democrat Who Demanded He Resign)
Zinke’s alleged participation in the negotiations over the lot violated his ethics agreement, in which he pledged not to participate in matters in which GNVPP was a party for one year after his resignation from GNVPP, according to the report. In a letter to GNVPP, Zinke claimed he would “not manage or provide any other services to Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation” during his time as secretary.
Zinke later denied involvement in the project during interviews with Department ethics investigators, claiming that his only involvement was helping his wife with GNVPP’s taxes and a personal meeting with land developers in which he “made it clear that I had resigned from the board and no longer represent GNVPP in any capacity.”
The developers met with Zinke in his office at the Department of the Interior and directed his staffers to schedule the meeting and a dinner, as well as provide security for a tour of the Lincoln Memorial, according to the report. Those actions violated ethics rules prohibiting officials from ordering staffers to work on private projects.
Zinke is denying any wrongdoing through his congressional campaign. Zinke, who represented Montana in the House of Representatives for one term, declared Wednesday his candidacy in Montana’s new Second District. He quoted at length from a 1910 speech given by former President Theodore Roosevelt in his announcement video, and his touting his endorsement from former President Donald Trump.
“A Biden Administration-led report published false information, and was shared with the press as a political hit job — real shocker. The report is totally subjective and admitted they released it because their conclusions were too flimsy and biased for DOJ to even consider. They didn’t even bother to talk to Ryan Zinke, staff, or anyone else who was supposedly involved in the non-existent ‘negotiations,'” the campaign said in a statement.
“Only in Biden’s corrupt admin is talking to one’s neighbor about the town’s public meetings and history of the land a sin. In 2007, the Zinke family was able to create a free and open space for people to enjoy in Whitefish. They are proud of the children’s sledding park that dozens of kids use every weekend and countless locals use for exercise every day.”
The campaign did not identify which part of the report it disputed. Neither Ryan nor Lola Zinke cooperated with the investigation, forcing the IG’s office to issue subpoenas.