Politically motivated investigations are nonsense
| October 12, 2022 12:00 AM
I was honored to serve as Secretary of the Interior. Indian trust lands, public lands, wildlife management, water, and federal energy, all fall within Interior. I was given the chance to make a difference in Montana and I was excited for the challenge. But in the 24 hours between my bipartisan confirmation (earning the support of Jon Tester plus seven other Democrats) and the time I sat down at my desk, I received four lawsuits and an investigation. I had no idea the corrupt system I was up against.
I encountered a department controlled by bureaucrats who answered to no one, couldn’t be fired, and weaponized the inspector general to shield their abuses of power. Interior employees were involved in sexual misconduct – never fired. Millions in taxpayer funded grants given to friends and allies of bureaucrats – no repercussions. Purposely flawed regulations were written that invited environmental groups to sue and then be rewarded by excessive settlements that were sealed so nobody could determine the cost to taxpayers. The swamp was in control.
Any federal employee can file a complaint regardless of merit. All complaints are investigated, and hence, a “federal investigation” is born. Attorney General Bill Barr summed it up best, “the nadir of this campaign was the effort to cripple, if not oust the Trump administration with frenzied and baseless accusations…no tactic, no matter how abusive and deceitful, was out of bounds.”
Over the next two years, I was subjected to politically motivated “investigations” into such nonsense as my socks, Doggy Days, flag protocol, and approved official travel, even though I flew coach while Obama’s Secretary spent millions on contracted jets. In every case, the “investigations” found that no laws or regulations were violated. And when they didn’t like my answers, they changed the title of the report and called it a lie. The radical environmental groups that have been killing Montana towns for decades and getting rich off sue and settle schemes couldn’t stop the policies we were implementing, so they tried to stop me by ruining me personally with baseless political attacks. Interestingly, one of the hacks running one of these green decoy groups is now my opponent’s senior staff. The most recent “investigation” is a prime example.
The case involved two New England Indian tribes who wanted to build a casino off trust land. They submitted a petition for Interior to approve or disapprove the project. It was not the job of DC to approve or disapprove the off-reservation project. Tribes should be free to engage in legal business activity on non-trust land just like everyone else without having to ask Interior’s permission. Special interest groups that were set to make billions off a sweetheart deal were enraged. We went to court and won. The judge agreed Interior didn’t have authority in the matter.
The swap wanted revenge. Those special interests teamed up with political interests and claimed “improper influence,” whatever that means. After 5 years and hundreds of thousands of dollars spent, the findings were no conflict of interest and no laws or regulations were violated. The best they could conjure up was to rename the post-investigation report and issue an opinion that I didn’t abide by my employee handbook and “lacked candor” because they didn’t like my answers. Despite journalists’ and the Tranel campaign’s lies, the report never said I lied to investigators. A waste of time and government resources, and my wife and I nearly had to sell our home to pay the legal bills. The report also omitted the fact that the federal courts agreed with our decision.
Despite the attacks, we moved America from energy dependent to energy dominant. Gas was $2.50 a gallon, emissions declined, and our safety record was unprecedented. We secured the border and tackled the infrastructure needs of our National Parks. In the words of AG Barr, the accomplishments were “all the more historic because it was in the face of relentless, implacable resistance.”
I’ll leave you with this: It’s curious there were no salacious reports issued in the three years between the time I left office and the year I’m running for election. I wonder why.
Ryan Zinke is the Republican candidate for western Montana’s U.S. House seat. He lives in Whitefish.