Opinion: A pattern of fraud – Commander Zinke returns to Montana

Michael Jarnevic

Not unlike the heartbreak of psoriasis, or perhaps an eruption of shingles, Ryan Zinke, that discredited political pariah has reemerged upon Montana’s Congressional stage.

And, like a bacillus injected into the body politic, his return was neither expected nor desired. Apparently, physically residing in California is no deterrent to becoming Montana’s new second Congressional representative, a post once held by Ron Marlenee, another best forgotten politico.

To fully appreciate why Zinke is less than qualified to be a Congressman – again – one must go back to his naval service and the reason why he left SEAL Team 6: fraud. Specifically, travel voucher fraud, a career-ending act designed to swindle the government (Read: we taxpayers) out of monies under false pretenses.

Military careers have ended over as little as $50 fraudulent travel expenses and Zinke’s was much, much more than that. Traveling under official orders, ostensibly to survey training sites in Montana, but, in actuality, to renovate his home in Whitefish, Commander Zinke engaged in this misconduct on several occasions. A subsequent investigation by the Navy revealed a “pattern of travel fraud.” But, regrettably, he was not punished for this, but was instead told not to return to Team 6.

Fraud, apparently, is inherent in Zinke’s DNA, for upon becoming the Secretary of the Interior, the allegations of fraud not-so-strangely reappeared, resulting in no less than 18 federal investigations, some of which initiated several Hatch Act Investigations.

Furthermore, Zinke’s own Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General went so far as to initiate probes to the Justice Department for further investigation and a senior White House official stated that they were examining whether the secretary “used his office to help himself.”

Zinke subsequently resigned as Interior Secretary over multiple probes tied to his real estate dealings, alleged threats to a U.S. senator, retaliation against a whistle blower, and, of course, numerous instances of travel fraud. While several of these investigations cleared him of wrongdoings, many were closed due to lack of cooperation, especially from the Interior Department itself.

Now, as you might have guessed, I don’t like Commander Zinke and I don’t relish the idea of him—yet again—having a national platform to pontificate about National Monument reduction or promoting U.S. “energy dominance.” I find him to be a boastful, arrogant example of the kind of person the military likes to term an “oxygen thief.”

In my view, if you’re going to live off your reputation as a service member, that reputation better be honorable. Even if he wasn’t convicted of the allegations as Interior Secretary, it still gives one pause that he was even investigated for impropriety. In the military, there is a saying: “An allegation becomes a conviction,” and that should be the operative maxim describing Ryan Zinke’s behavior.

But even deeper than that, Zinke’s conduct, both in the military, and as Interior Secretary, demonstrates chronic lapses in judgment that should not be condoned, nor sanctioned, and he should not be allowed to resume a career that views political office as a vehicle for pompous, self-congratulatory grandstanding (I’m thinking of your feckless joyride into the Interior Department on a hapless horse, Commander.)

No, ex-secretary Zinke, Montana doesn’t need your kind of plasticine, patriotic posturing that is the hallmark of your political career, so, perhaps, you should officially register in your evident home state of California and run for office there. I’m sure they will appreciate your brand of moral flexibility and penchant for deceitful shenanigans.