IG Report: Official Lied About Blocking Conn. Tribes from Casino

A report by the Department of the Interior’s inspector general says former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (l.) lied to investigators probing whether he wrongly blocked Connecticut tribes’ efforts to open a casino in 2017.

IG Report: Official Lied About Blocking Conn. Tribes from Casino

A report from the inspector general (IG) of the U.S. Department of the Interior reveals lies from the former head of the department surrounding the 2017 efforts of Connecticut’s Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes to jointly open a commercial casino in the state.

The IG report says former Trump administration Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to investigators who were probing whether he wrongly blocked the casino due to lobbying on behalf of MGM Resorts, which was planning its Massachusetts casino near where the tribes wanted to place their new venture. The IG investigation was launched after Politico reported that Zinke had been pressured to reject the casino by lobbyists and Nevada lawmakers, even after Interior analysts recommended approving it.

“We found that Secretary Zinke and the (chief of staff) made statements to (Inspector General) investigators with the overall intent to mislead them,” the report said. “We found that both Secretary Zinke and COS made statements that presented an inaccurate version of the circumstances in which the (Department of the Interior) made key decisions. As a result, we concluded that Secretary Zinke and COS did not comply with their duty of candor when questioned about their respective involvement in the DOI’s decision.”

The Interior Department further noted that Zinke, who is running for a congressional seat in Montana, pressed the IG’s office to withhold the report until after the November election.

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

A lawyer for Zinke criticized the timing of the report’s release.

“On the eve of an election, the IG has released a misleading and inaccurate report that suggested Secretary Zinke lacked candor in his interview with IG agents,” Zinke’s attorney, Danny C. Onorato, said in an emailed statement to Politico. “That is wrong. The content of the IG report and the timing of its release will be seen for what it is, another political smear.”