Watchdog: Trump’s Interior Secretary Zinke lied during casino investigation

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The agency noted that Jinke, Those who served in Congress before joining the Trump administration and narrowly won the Republican primary in June have asked IG to keep their findings under wraps until after November’s election, the agency said in a request. was not in keeping with their practices.

“In his remarks, Secretary Zinke cited DOJ guidelines and said that we should postpone the release of this report until after the conclusion of the November 2022 election, in which he seeks public office,” the report said. are doing.”

A lawyer for Zinke criticized the report and its timing.

“On the eve of the election, the IG issued a misleading and false report suggesting that Secretary Zinke lacked candor in his interviews with IG agents,” said Zinke’s attorney, Danny C. Onorato said in an emailed statement. “This is wrong. The content of the IG report and the timing of its release will be seen for what it is, it is another political blot.”

Scott Hommel, Zinke’s Chief of Staff While in the interior, Could not be reached for comment.

The inspector general’s office said it had sent its findings to the Justice Department in 2018, but in 2021 the department declined to pursue its investigation. Today’s report does not say whether Interior handled casino permits incorrectly, saying the matter was still being fought in federal court at the time of its investigation.

In 2018 a federal judge dismissed the original lawsuit that a tribe and the state of Connecticut had filed against Interior over the disapproval, but Allowed plaintiff to amend his complaint To add to the allegations of political manipulation in the process. The tribes then dropped the lawsuit in March 2019.

The investigation stemmed from Tribes’ allegations that Zinke rejected internal staff recommendations to approve the casino, and that Instead he acted inappropriately to block the project in favor of lobbyists from MGM Resorts International, which had a competing casino, and Nevada lawmakers.

The report included a series of phone calls, text messages and emails between Zinke and MGM representatives, including a political adviser who the report described as “a close personal relationship” with Zinke. Reportedly, the consultant told the IG’s office that he raised the casino issue with Zinke during a skiing trip in March 2017.

“The political adviser told us that he ate dinner with Secretary Zinke primarily at the Secretary’s residence in Washington, D.C., and that he discussed the casino’s argument against the Tribes Amendment with Secretary Zinke during one or more dinners. of,” the report states.

Despite these many meetings and communications, Zinke told investigators that he had not discussed the issue with anyone outside the Department of the Interior.

“The OIG investigators also asked Secretary Zinke about any discussions she had with individuals outside the DOI about tribes.” , request” the report said. “He specifically asked the secretary, ‘Did … you discussed, uh, outside – outside, say DOI personnel, did you have similar discussions with representatives of tribes, states? Others?’ Secretary Zinke replied, ‘I don’t – no.'”

Zinke also declined to discuss the casino issue with a US senator, although the senator told investigators that he had spoken to Zinke about the same issue. Previous reporting had shown the person to be former Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.who called on Zinke to urge the tribes to reject the applications.

“The US senator said that he and Secretary Zinke discussed the amendments in detail … In fact, the senator reiterated to us that discussing the amendments was the purpose of the call,” the report said. “The US senator also said that he was sure he had asked the secretary not to approve the tribes’ amendments and that his communications to the secretary were clear.”

Overall, the agency found that was the only testimony from Zinke that did not match those of many others involved, the report concludes.

“We draw this conclusion based largely on the content and extent of the documentary evidence that we reviewed, as well as interviews we conducted with a US senator, casino lobbyist, associate deputy secretary, the [Interior] lawyers, and other witnesses,” the report said. “We note that the statements of the witnesses to the OIG investigators and their emails and text messages were consistent with each other and generally conflicted with the statements of Secretary Zinke.”

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