We knew that when red-marker-scribbling megalomaniac Ryan Zinke stepped down as interior secretary earlier this year it wouldn’t be the last we’d hear about him.
Sure enough, prosecutors in Washington have provided evidence to a grand jury probing whether Zinke lied to federal investigators about his efforts to block a casino development in Connecticut by the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, The Washington Post reported on Friday.
The casino case, and the resulting investigation in which prosecutors believe Zinke lied during interviews with investigators from the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General, is just one of several potential legal problems Zinke is facing.
In 2017, the Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes obtained approval from the state legislature to open a casino just 12 miles from a casino complex operated by MGM Resorts International, and near the site of another planned MGM casino. Under Zinke, the Interior Department refused to sign off on the deal after Zinke and other department officials allegedly held several meetings and phone calls with MGM lobbyists and GOP lawmakers allied with MGM, Politico reported earlier this month.
Per the Post:
Interior officials — including career staff and two Trump appointees — had tentatively signed off on the tribes’ proposal in the summer of 2017. But in September the department declined to approve it, prompting a lawsuit by the Mashantucket Pequot and the state of Connecticut. The tribe has questioned whether Zinke was improperly influenced by Rep. Mark Amodei (R-Nev.) and then-Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.), both of whom have received contributions from MGM Resorts International. The company ranked as Heller’s second-biggest contributor between 2011 and 2016, according to the Center for Responsive Politics, giving him $57,450 during that period.
Attorneys representing the tribes and the state of Connecticut amended their complaint Wednesday in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia. The filing says that Heller called Zinke on Sept. 15, 2017, just hours before Interior issued its final decision, to pressure him not to approve the casino application.
Zinke later agreed to be voluntarily interviewed about the discussions by Interior’s Inspector General’s Office. Last October, that office decided to refer its investigation to the Justice Department.
Sources told the Post that witnesses in the grand jury hearings are being asked about people who might have influenced Zinke’s decisions in the casino case. Zinke has not yet been called to testify, the newspaper said.
Last month, he told the Post that “investigators may not have liked my answers, but they were truthful.”
Reached on his cellphone on Friday, Zinke told a Politico reporter, “Have a great day, bye-bye.”