It’s not every day that a federal cabinet secretary is referred to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, though as the Washington Post reported, that’s precisely what happened yesterday to one of Donald Trump’s most controversial cabinet members.
The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General has referred one of its probes into the conduct of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department for further investigation, according to two individuals familiar with the matter.
Deputy Inspector General Mary L. Kendall, who is serving as acting inspector general, is conducting at least three probes that involve Zinke. These include his involvement in a Montana land deal and the decision not to grant two tribes approval to operate a casino in Connecticut. The individuals, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to talk publicly, did not specify which inquiry had been referred to the Justice Department.
It’s probably premature to say that Zinke is now under criminal investigation, but the agency’s inspector general has apparently determined that the cabinet secretary may have committed criminal acts. An IG isn’t empowered to do criminal investigations, which is why the matter has been sent to Justice.
The article added that a senior White House official said the investigation is apparently looking into whether the secretary “used his office to help himself.”
It’s difficult to delve too deeply into the accusation against Zinke, since we don’t know which of his controversies was referred to federal law enforcement, and “used his office to help himself” is a frustratingly vague phrase.
But therein lies the point: Ryan Zinke has been caught up in so many scandals, it’s difficult to even guess which of them will receive Justice Department scrutiny.
In July, for example, Grist.com published a list of Zinke’s assorted scandals, and came up with 10 separate controversies. A month later, CREW (Citizens for Responsible and Ethics in Washington) put together a list of the assorted investigations into possible Zinke wrongdoing, and the group counted 15.
Media Matters, meanwhile, put together a timeline of “the Interior secretary’s questionable actions and controversies.” As of yesterday, it has 27 installments.
Let’s put it this way, when a cabinet secretary’s scandal is referred to the Justice Department for a criminal investigation, and everyone’s first question is, “Which one of his scandals?” there’s a problem.