US Deputy AG Rosen Shot Down DOJ Case Against Ryan Zinke for Connecticut Casino Statements

Posted on: November 13, 2020, 03:39h. 

Last updated on: November 13, 2020, 05:24h.

US Deputy Attorney General Jeffrey A. Rosen blocked a move by the DOJ’s Public Integrity Section (PIN) to prosecute former interior secretary Ryan Zinke for allegedly lying to federal investigators about a Connecticut casino proposal.

Ryan Zinke
Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke left office under a cloud in January 2019, having been invited to resign on Twitter by President Donald Trump. (Image: PBS)

As first reported in The New York Times, Rosen nixed the case against Zinke because he said it needed more work. But according to NYT sources, prosecutors at PIN were irked by Rosen’s refusal to play ball.  The NYT said that “exacerbated a sense inside […PIN] that top department officials would hinder investigations into Mr. Trump and his officials.”

Zinke was invited to resign by Trump on Twitter in December 2018 as investigations by various federal bodies into the interior secretary’s alleged improper conduct began to pile up.

Potential Felony

Days later, news broke that Zinke was facing a DOJ probe into whether he had made false statements to the DOI’s Office of Inspector General (OIG), a potential felony. The OIG investigates corruption within the department and had been examining Zinke’s refusal to green light a casino proposal in East Windsor, Connecticut for the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes.

Zinke is currently the subject of a federal lawsuit filed by the tribes. They claim he obstructed the casino as a political favor to MGM Resorts and “ultimately buckled under undue political pressure” from Nevada Republican Congressmen Sen. Dean Heller and Rep. Mark Amodei.

The proposed “Tribal Winds” casino’s location had been chosen strategically. Just a few miles from the Massachusetts border and 12 miles from MGM’s new Springfield property, it was hoped Tribal Winds would blunt the new competition posed by MGM to the tribes’ casinos in southern Connecticut.

Why the Delay?

The project had the blessing of the Connecticut legislature. But because it was to be an off-reservation casino, amendments needed to be made to the tribes’ compacts, and these needed sign off from the DOI’s Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA).

This should have been a routine matter. Under federal law, the DOI is required to issue a verdict on compacts within 45 days, and can only refuse on the grounds that a proposal violates the Indian Gaming Regulatory Act (IGRA). But the tribes were left in limbo for more than a year.

This is despite informal assurances by the BIA that approval was all but certain. The bureau had even drafted the approval letters, in October 2017. That’s also when high-level DOI officials suddenly chose to intervene and do nothing.

The PIN case is still technically open and, according to The Washington Post, the OIG cannot release its report about Zinke’s conduct in the casino affair until prosecutors decide whether to press on with it. That’s something that may become easier to do under the next administration.