The Office of the Inspector General (OIG) for the Department of the Interior (DOI) has confirmed that its investigation of former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s email use – an investigation requested by Committee on Natural Resources Chair Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Committee on Oversight and Reform Chairman Elijah Cummings (D-Md.) – has been folded into a larger criminal probe being coordinated with the Department of Justice (DOJ).
On April 19, 2018, the lawmakers requested an OIG investigation of Zinke’s use of private email to conduct official business. That investigation, which has not been previously publicized, was opened contemporaneous to a related criminal investigation that the OIG is coordinating with DOJ, and the two are now combined into a single unified effort, according to a letter OIG sent to both chairs earlier this week.
Grijalva and Cummings asked the OIG to conduct “an investigation into whether Secretary Zinke’s use of a private email address to conduct official business complies with federal law, including the Federal Records Act, National Archives regulations, and internal DOI policies.”
There are two publicly known criminal investigations currently involving Zinke’s tenure at DOI: a grand jury probe of reports that he lied to federal investigators about the construction of a casino in Connecticut, as reported by the Washington Post and others, and a DOJ investigation of Zinke’s role in a property development deal in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont., as reported by the New York Times.
“Secretary Zinke’s tenure was a perfect metaphor for the Trump administration: giving public resources to private companies, strictly limiting access to information, doing favors for rich friends, covering up wrongdoing and expecting no consequences,” Chair Grijalva said on July 30th. “This investigation and others like it are part of restoring public trust in government, which has suffered from the intentional destruction of the Trump years. Leaving office half a step ahead of the law doesn’t wipe the slate clean. It’s imperative that political appointees at the Department of Justice allow this investigation to continue unimpeded regardless of the risk to Mr. Zinke or other Trump officials.”
“Transparency is the foundation of our democracy,” Chairman Cummings said on July 30th. “The American people have a right to know who has access to the highest levels of the Department of Interior. Our joint investigation has already uncovered serious problems at the Department, raising important questions about who is influencing the Trump Administration’s policy decisions. We look forward to the completion of the Inspector General’s investigation, but we will continue to conduct robust oversight of the Department to ensure our government is making decisions in the best interest of the American people.”
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