A court proceeding is reportedly underway regarding whether former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to federal investigators during his time leading the agency.
Prosecutors in Washington have started presenting evidence to a grand jury on whether Zinke was honest to federal investigators about his denial of a petition from two Native American tribes to run a casino in Connecticut, according to a report from The Washington Post.
The case revolves around a decision Zinke made in September 2017 to decline an application by two tribes — the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan — to operate a casino in the state of Connecticut, despite the Department of the Interior having temporarily signed off on the petition in summer 2017.
The Mashantucket Pequot and the state of Connecticut issued a lawsuit, claiming Zinke caved under political pressure.
When the tribes worked to win approval for the gambling facility, MGM Resorts International, a would-be competitor, launched a lobbying campaign against the idea. The tribe had suggested Zinke was pressured by former Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller and Republican Rep. Mark Amodei of Nevada, both of whom received campaign contributions from MGM Resorts International.
After federal investigators looked into the matter, the inspector general office of the Interior Department referred the case to the Justice Department following concerns that Zinke lied about his decision to nix the casino project.
While making false statements to federal officials is a crime, it would be very difficult for prosecutors to successfully make the case that Zinke knowingly lied rather than simply misstated a fact.
Zinke, for his part, has denied any wrongdoing.
“I sided with a principle that I didn’t want to take a position on something that was off the reservation. I had multiple legal counselors’ opinions about what was legal. The investigators may not have liked my answers, but they were truthful,” the former Interior secretary said in January.
Zinke, whose career at the Interior became engulfed in various scandals, announced his resignation in December. The former Montana congressman blamed “false allegations” and liberal opponents for creating a toxic work environment, and he did not care to serve in the Trump administration after Democrats won control of the House of Representatives.
Zinke has landed two high-profile jobs in the private sector since leaving the White House in January.
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