Trump Interior Secretary Accused of Misusing Position for Hometown Project

Former U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke allegedly misused his position to help further a development project in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, according to a report from federal investigators.

The report said that even after Zinke, who served in the Trump administration, said he would break ties with a foundation involved with the project, he continued working with the organization, the Associated Press reported.

He also allegedly provided incorrect and incomplete information to an ethics official from the Interior Department after being confronted about his ties to the project, the report said.

The report may spell trouble for Zinke ahead of the Republican primary in June for a vacant congressional seat he is vying for. He previously represented Montana in the U.S. House of Representatives before he joined former President Donald Trump's cabinet in 2017.

Zinke and others established the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation in 2007, AP reported. He and his wife had been negotiating with private developers to use some of the foundation's land for the development project, which was called 95 Karrow.

Zinke and his wife did not agree to the investigator's request for an interview, but Interior Department Inspector General Mark Greenblatt issued subpoenas to the developers for emails and text messages associated with the project, according to the report.

Zinke Report
Government investigators said former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke misused his position to advance a development project in his Montana hometown and lied to an agency ethics official about his involvement. Above, Zinke speaks at EPA headquarters in Washington, D.C., on December 11, 2018. Cliff Owen/AP Photo

A review of the communications "showed that Secretary Zinke continued to be involved in Foundation matters while he was Secretary of the Interior, even after resigning from the Foundation and committing in required documentation to relevant Federal officials that he would no longer manage or provide services to the Foundation," the report said.

"Specifically, the communications showed that Secretary Zinke repeatedly communicated with the developers of the 95 Karrow project and negotiated with them on behalf of the Foundation by discussing the use of Foundation property for the project, specific design aspects of the project, and the development of a microbrewery on the property," the report added.

The report said that he also misused his position by having his staff help him with the development project, AP reported.

In a statement sent to Newsweek, Zinke's campaign described the report as "a political hit job" and said his family's work with the foundation had facilitated the restoration of land that was turned into a park where people can go sledding. The statement also said that the investigators "didn't even bother" to talk to Zinke, his staff "or anyone else who was supposedly involved in the non-existent 'negotiations.'"

Zinke seemingly responded in part to the report's allegations in a tweet on Wednesday, saying that only in President Joe Biden's "corrupt" administration "is talking to my neighbor a sin."

"15 years ago our family created a free and open space for people to enjoy in Whitefish. We are proud of the children's sledding park that dozens of kids use every weekend & countless locals use for exercise every day," the tweet read.

Zinke has received Trump's endorsement for his congressional run and is favored to win the seat, the Washington Post reported.

Update 2/16/22, 2:43 p.m. ET: This story has been updated with additional information and background.