DOJ investigation into former Interior chief goes to grand jury

DOJ investigation into former Interior chief goes to grand jury

A court proceeding looking into whether former Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeNew policy at Interior's in-house watchdog clamps down on interactions with press Overnight Energy: EPA proposes scrapping limits on coal plant waste | Appointee overseeing federal lands once advocated selling them | EPA lifts Obama-era block on controversial mine Latest appointee overseeing federal public lands once advocated to sell them MORE lied to federal investigators about a decision he made while heading the agency is fully underway, according to The Washington Post.

Prosecutors have already begun presenting evidence to a grand jury on whether Zinke made false claims to investigators about his decision to deny a petition by two Indian tribes to operate a casino for profit in Connecticut, two sources told the Post.

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The Inspector General office of the Interior Department referred the matter to the Department of Justice after its investigators became concerned that Zinke had lied to them about how he came to his decision on the casino.

The investigation follows a decision in September 2017 by the Interior Department to decline to approve an application by two tribes — the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan — to run a casino in Connecticut.

Interior had tentatively signed off on the proposal in the summer of 2017, before mega-casino MGM began lobbying against it. MGM argued that granting the tribes’ application would give them an unfair advantage over a casino 12 miles away from the proposed site of the tribes' venture.

The two tribes argued that Interior’s reversal came because of political pressure, and the Mashantucket Pequot and the state of Connecticut sued.

Zinke resigned in December as he dealt with multiple ethics controversies, including the reports of the DOJ investigation.

He has said he was unaware of any investigations into him and had not been contacted by investigators. Zinke did not return a request for comment.

A spokesperson for the Interior Department said the agency cannot comment on matters in litigation or under investigation.

While grand jury proceedings are not made public, the Post reported that Zinke had not been called to appear before the grand jury as of Friday.