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Justice to Probe if Zinke Lied to Investigators

FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2018 file photo, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke speaks at EPA headquarters in Washington.
FILE - In this Dec. 11, 2018 file photo, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke speaks at EPA headquarters in Washington.

The Justice Department has launched an investigation into whether Ryan Zinke lied to Interior Department investigators.

The Washington Post reported Thursday that the Justice Department's public integrity section had begun the probe of the interior secretary, who left office Wednesday.

Zinke told the Associated Press that he had not lied to the investigators looking into possible ethics violations and that the report had been leaked by people wanting to smear his legacy.

His personal conduct and executive decisions have raised questions about whether he used his position for personal gain, triggering at least 15 investigations, several of which cleared him of wrongdoing.

Served for almost two years

The former Republican congressman from the western state of Montana, who has served as Interior Secretary for almost two years, left just weeks before Democrats took control of the House.

As head of the Interior Department, which oversees federal land and wildlife, Zinke helped lead the Trump administration's successful roll-back of environmental regulations. He also promoted U.S. energy development, but questions about his conduct dogged him throughout his term.

Report sent to Justice Department

The Interior Department's internal watchdog investigated Zinke for his involvement in a Montana land agreement backed by David Lesar, chairman of the oil field services company, Halliburton.

The agency's Office of Inspector General has referred the investigation to the Justice Department for potential wrongdoing. Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, has denied any wrongdoing.

Zinke also drew criticism for mixing official business with political campaigning and family travel. The IG's office said, in an investigation it released in October, that Zinke had staffers explore designating his wife an agency volunteer so that she could travel with him at taxpayers' expense. Some of the taxpayer-funded trips were taken to the U.S. Virgin Islands, an Alaska steakhouse and a Montana ski resort.

VOA's Wayne Lee contributed to this report

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