Trump Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied during casino probe, report finds
August 25, 2022
The U.S. Department of the Interior concluded via its report published on August 24 that its former secretary Ryan Zinke and former chief of staff Scott Hommel "did not comply with their duty of candor" during the joint casino project between the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe.
The recent findings suggest that Zinke had lied to investigators when he was asked about conversations he previously had with lobbyists, lawmakers and related officials regarding the construction and operation of the tribes' casino project.
When serving as the interior secretary from 2017-2019 under then-President Donald Trump, Zinke held the federal approval to allow both construction and operation of the now-failed project in East Windsor. Later, there were accusations that the senior politician had close ties with MGM Resorts, whose casino was also constructed near the joint casino of the tribes. This led the tribes and the state of Connecticut to file a lawsuit against Zinke for "improper and undue political influence".
The former Interior secretary has not commented directly on the findings. However, via his attorney, the senior politician said the recent report was "wrong and without merit".
More on Zinke's case, chronology, new findings
The casino construction was initially planned in East Windsor, a township in Mercer County in New Jersey. However, both the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and Mohegan Tribe, initially keen on the gambling joint venture, ended up scrapping the idea in December 2020 indefinitely.
It was reported that the tribes wanted to focus on their own casinos, which were affected by the pandemic and have faced "unprecedented challenges" over the last seven months since they released a joint statement on December 10 that year.
The failed construction of the casino was tied to Zinke's role in providing federal approval since the East Windsor is a non-tribal site located near the then-under constructed MGM Resorts' casino.
Zinke did not approve or reject the tribes' request. Instead, he sent the request back in September 2017, the time and date when the construction of MGM Resorts' casino was likely in full swing — as it opened in 2018.
There were concerns over the lack of action from Zinke as well as him acting "improperly" in responding to the tribes' request, The Associated Press' Matthew Daly noted.
When Zinke passed the request back, the tribes and the state of Connecticut filed a lawsuit against him, which alleged the politician for "improper and undue political influence" as the Interior Department did not respond and acted within 45 days or as legally required.
Suspicion rose when Zinke was reported to have met lobbyists from MGM alongside congressional Republicans who supported the Las Vegas-based gambling giant. This eventually led to a federal ethics investigation on Zinke.
Former Sen. Dean Heller said to investigators that he told Zinke not to accept the request, citing that the politician lacked the authority to allow gaming on tribal lands. Heller also added that MGM officials had told him the tribes' joint casino, located only 13 miles from their establishment, would pose direct competition to their business.
Zinke previously denied any wrongdoings and rejected allegations that he lied to the Department of the Interior's inspector general when asked about the casino project in an interview with the Associated Press in 2019. Since then, the investigation of the failed project has shifted to Zinke and Hommel.