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White House: Zinke told Trump he had 'no role' in Puerto Rico contract

 
White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said Trump asked Zinke during an Oval Office meeting if he had any involvement in the Whitefish Energy Holdings contract. She said the president raised the question “just for clarification purposes.”
 
“He reiterated once again that we have no role — the federal government — and specifically he had no role in that contract,” Sanders told reporters.
 
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Whitefish Energy is headquartered in Whitefish, Mont., a town of 7,200 where Zinke was raised. Both the department and Whitefish have denied that Zinke played any role in the company getting the Puerto Rico deal.
 
Sanders said the deal is being audited and said she would not comment further until the audit is completed.
 
The meeting between Trump and Zinke was scheduled several weeks ago in order to discuss national monument designations, the spokeswoman said.
 
The controversy surrounding the electric contract has enflamed the criticism of the Trump administration’s handling of the response to Hurricane Maria which devastated Puerto Rico.
 
As of Friday, just over one quarter of the island has had its electricity restored, according to government figures.
 
Zinke said in a statement on Friday afternoon that he "had absolutely nothing to do" with Whitefish receiving the contract, while taking a shot at news media for scrutiny of the deal.
 
"Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless," he said. "Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime."

"All records, which are being made available to appropriate officials, will prove no involvement," Zinke asserted. "I welcome any and all investigations into these allegations, and encourage the Interior Department's Inspector General to investigate this matter fully."
 
The Federal Emergency Management Agency sounded the alarm Friday on the contract with Whitefish, amid concerns about the firm’s tiny staff and lack of competitive bidding. Whitefish had only two employees before reaching a deal with the Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority.
 
Trump’s question to Zinke is a possible sign the president is concerned about suggestions that Zinke was involved in the deal.
 
Zinke knows Whitefish CEO Andy Techmanski, and his son worked at one of the company’s construction sites.
 
An Interior Department spokesperson chalked up the relationship to the fact “they both live in a small town where everyone knows everyone” and said Zinke had no involvement in the contract.
 
Updated at 4:23 p.m.