Artist's rendering of the Tribal Winds Casino, to be owned and operated by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe in East Windsor, Connecticut. Image: Tribal Winds Casino

'There was no substance': Ryan Zinke claims exoneration in Indian gaming scandal

Former Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke resigned from the Trump administration amid scrutiny of his ethical behaviors and he continues to dismiss the allegations against him as fake news.

In fact, Zinke told Bloomberg News that he has been exonerated in connection with all of the investigations into his activities at the Department of the Interior. That apparently includes the Indian gaming scandal in Connecticut though the report isn't entirely specific.

“There was no substance; there never was,” Zinke said in an interview with Bloomberg News in which he called the probes "BS" and referred to the nation's capital as "angry and hateful" despite agreeing to work for energy, mining and other clients with interests in Washington, D.C.

But the interview with Bloomberg News isn't the first time Zinke claims to have been cleared of wrongdoing. Just last week, he told an energy industry event that nothing came of all the investigations.

“I went through 15 investigations as Interior Secretary,” Zinke said at Shale Magazine’s State of Energy luncheon in Texas on July 18, The Houston Chronicle reported. “Everyone one of them lead to the same conclusion, that I followed the rules and policy.”

The Office of Inspector General at the Department of the Interior opened an investigation into Zinke's handling of two Indian gaming compacts in April 2018. At issue were agreements signed by the Mashantucket Pequot Tribal Nation and the Mohegan Tribe to account for a new casino they planned to open in Connecticut.

For reasons that remain unexplained to this day, Interior refused to deliver decisions on the agreements in a timely manner. The probe was supposed to look into the reasons for the inaction but a report has never been made public even as Zinke says he has been exonerated.

From left: Chickasaw Nation Lt. Gov. Jefferson Keel, then-Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, then-Mohegan Tribe Chairman Kevin Brown, Ohkay Owingeh council member Joe Garcia and Leander "Russ" McDonald, the president of the United Tribes Technical College, share the stage at the mid-year session of the National Congress of American Indians in Connecticut on June 13, 2017 Photo by Indianz.Com (CC BY-NC-SA 4.0)

As part of the investigation, leaders of both tribes as well as the then-governor of Connecticut, were interviewed by the Office of Inspector General, according to people familiar with the matter. Zinke also submitted to interviews.

A point of contention arose with respect to a meeting in which Zinke told the tribes, as well as the then-governor, that he was going to approve the agreements, people familiar with the matter said. Whether he was truthful about the meeting, which took place on the Mohegan Reservation in June 2017, prompted speculation about the reason for a report never materializing from the Inspector General.

Multiple sources in Indian policy circles told Indianz.Com last year that a federal grand jury was looking into allegations that Zinke lied to federal investigators but he has never been charged.

Amid the scrutiny, the Bureau of Indian Affairs allowed the the Mohegan Tribe's agreement to take effect in June 2018 without an explanation. The Mashantucket Tribe's agreement was allowed to take effect in March, also without explanation.

The agreements were controversial because they paved the way for the opening of the Tribal Winds Casino under Connecticut law. A rival non-Indian gaming company lobbied Zinke, the Trump administration and key Republicans in Congress on the matter and was able to open a commercial facility in neighboring Massachusetts last year without facing the additional competition.

The tribes have yet to announce an opening date for their project, to be located in the town of East Windsor. The non-Indian facility is less than 15 miles away in Springfield, Massachusetts.

Read More on the Story
Ryan Zinke Is Now Taking Clients From Industries He Oversaw in Trump’s Cabinet (Bloomberg News July 23, 2019)
Ryan Zinke touts new career in the oil and gas industry during Houston visit (The Houston Chronicle July 18, 2019)

Federal Register Notices
Indian Gaming; Amendment to Class III Gaming Procedures for the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe (March 25, 2019)
Indian Gaming; Tribal-State Class III Gaming Compact Taking Effect in the State of Connecticut (June 1, 2018)

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