A Primer on Ryan Zinke’s Ethical Lapses: Did He Lie to the FEC?

U.S. Republican candidate for the House of Representatives claims to be running for Congress to “restore trust” in government, but how can we trust him?

1. Zinke outed Navy SEAL Team Six after the bin Laden raid

This stands out as the most egregious ethical lapse in Mr. Zinke’s short career in the Montana political spotlight. Desperate to draw attention to himself in the wake of the killing of Osama bin Laden, Zinke told multiple members of the Montana media that his former unit, Navy SEAL Team Six, was responsible for the raid. He even told Mike Dennison operational details about the mission, claiming special contacts in the SEAL community. Dennison later confirmed this in an interview with the Helena Vigilante.

Despite this, despite the fact that Zinke ran to the press to cover himself in unearned glory, he had the audacity to blame the Obama administration for leaking the name of the SEAL Team involved.

No one can question Commander Zinke’s service to his country as a member of the military, but that service does not give him license to unethically blame the President for his own sins.

2. He left the Navy SEALs under suspicion of ethics violations

Zinke has never convincingly explained his departure from the military. According to investigative reporter Michael Hastings:

“We heard some things about this founder,” Klass continued, referring to Zinke. “If a guy has had two combat tours and retired as a lieutenant commander, he did not have a brilliant career.”
Klass, a former Air Force pilot with over 500 combat hours, is referring to claims by former military officials — who declined to be quoted on the record — that Zinke left the Navy SEALs acrimoniously after being accused of improprieties surrounding his travel reports in the late ‘90s.
“There were ethics issues around his travel,” a former Navy SEAL and senior Defense Department official told BuzzFeed. “He was using government travel to visit his home in Montana. He got caught. That’s why he left the SEALs.”
Zinke did not contest the allegation, but suggested that the travel dispute is hardly major a blot on his service record.

3. He is using his Super PAC in a farcically unethical manner

Molly Redden at Mother Jones did the best reporting on the absurd transformation from Special Operations for America chairman Ryan Zinke to Special Operations for America supported candidate Ryan Zinke:

Then, on September 30, Zinke quit the group he founded, handing control to former Navy SEAL Gary Stubblefield—his Jon Stewart. During that time, SOFA’s Facebook page and Twitter feed hummed with “draft Zinke” web ads for the Ryan Zinke Exploratory Committee. Three weeks later, on October 21, Zinke declared his candidacy—and SOFA announced that it would lend its fundraising muscle and substantial war chest to help its little-known former chairman get elected. “Show your support for Ryan Zinke by donating now!” a page on SOFA’s website proclaims.

Even today, SOFA is featuring almost non-stop support for Chairman Zinke while all but ignoring the other candidate they are pretending to support.

As was first reported here, even Republican Rick Hill, a former Montana Congressman called Zinke’s actions “highly questionable.”

4. He used his Super PAC as his personal piggy bank

Senator Zinke not only paid himself thousands of dollars from the SOFA coffers, he paid his friends, too.  Former Congressman Hill again:

Zinke needs to make public the financial records of Continental Divide International. We need to know if he had used it to improperly funnel money from SOFA and other entities for personal gain.

5. He lied about taking the money

When Zinke appeared on Sean Hannity’s program in 2012, he said that he would not take any kind of salary from Special Operations for America. From SOFA themselves:

“Appearing on Sean Hannity’s show on Fox News, Zinke said he was not forming SOFA for personal gain, noting that he would not be taking any type of salary from the organization. “I’m not taking a paycheck, I’m doing this for God and country.”

Of course, that simply wasn’t true, as Zinke collected thousands of dollars from SOFA while acting as its chairman. In fact, as Mother Jones and I reported, Zinke collected over $26,000 from SOFA in less than a year.

When Zinke was interviewed by the right-leaning MediaTrackers Montana, he claimed the money was “travel expenses.” They write:

Zinke stated that SOFA was simply paying his travel expenses for campaign and fundraising trips during the presidential election.

“It was for expenses,” stated Zinke. “I was doing a lot of hard work in my role as chairman and traveling all over the place fighting the president’s re-election.”

Claiming these were travel expenses is interesting, given that the FEC reports show clearly that the payments to Zinke’s shell company Continental Divide were for “strategy consulting” or “fundraising consulting.”


To believe that Zinke received regular, even figures like $5,000 for travel reimbursements would stretch the imagination of even the most credulous supporter, but when his own FEC reports contradict his claim, there’s no question: Zinke lied to Hannity and lied to Media Trackers Montana.  The only other explanation is that Zinke and SOFA lied to the FEC.

What’s worse, he lied to the hundreds of people who donated their money to SOFA under the belief that Zinke was not taking “any type of salary.” Unethical at best, and perhaps even fraudulent.

6. He’s repeatedly (and dishonestly) exploited the deaths at Benghazi for his own political gain

In a poorly-written and conspiracy-filled rant published by too many papers in Montana, Zinke trafficked in right wing talking points about Benghazi, talking points that could only bring more pain to those killed in the attacks.

7. He ran as Neil Livingstone’s running mate in 2012

Enough said.

Bottom Line

It seems likely that this post will only continue to develop. Check back for more information or feel free to drop me a line if you have any more insight into Senator Zinke’s ethical lapses.

While Senator Zinke’s totally uncoordinated Super PAC seems excited about the attention they’ve (finally) received, it can’t be great news for a Congressional candidate to have ethics charges leveled against him from fellow Republicans in the first month of a campaign. It would seem prudent for the media to keep pursuing this story, which isn’t a question of partisan politics, but a simple matter of credibility and fitness for office. After all, as Senator Zinke said, “we have to make sure we hold people accountable and get the truth.”

Sir, it’s time for you to be accountable and to tell the truth.

If you appreciate an independent voice holding Montana politicians accountable and informing voters, and you can throw a few dollars a month our way, we would certainly appreciate it.

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About the author

Don Pogreba

Don Pogreba has been writing about Montana politics since 2005 and teaching high school English since 2000. He's a former debate coach, and loyal, if often sad, fan of the San Diego Padres and Portland Timbers. He spends far too many hours of his life working at school and on his small business, Big Sky Debate.
His work has appeared in Politico and Rewire.
In the past few years, travel has become a priority, whether it's a road trip to some little town in Montana or a museum of culture in Ísafjörður, Iceland.


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  • Too funny! Osama died in 2001, the reasons for his “killing” in 2011 are unclear – some say it was a political diversion or political cover, but the president doesn’t make decisions like this. It could be that the image had worn out, lost its usefulness. At any rate, many of the Seal Team died that very night in an explosion at the compound, still others while inexplicably aboard a National Guard helicopter in Afghanistan. (Special ops don’t normally ride them.)

    So the reason for the Zinke “leak” is suspicious, as others were allowed to leak as well, and trust me, the Pentagon can keep secrets. I suspect the leaks were allowed to escape normal security to add credibility to the big lie.

    If you ever see a little bit of how your country really operates, more will open up to you. In the meantime, understand that public mythology is a large part of what holds a country together. Glasnost was an important factor in the fall of the Soviets, though surely only one among many.

    Now I sit back and await ridicule. But frankly, Pogie, though I don’t like it, I despise the know-it-all assuredness with which you who never expose yourself to evidence exhibit, and so privately ridicule you in return.

    (Osama died of complications related to his kidney disease, by the way. His last interview in late 2001 h denied having Any part in 9/11. )

      • This is not a dodge or diversion. You have certainty that you know what happened. I don’t think you have any evidence beyond assurances of authority figures.

        I’ve not seen convincing evidence that he was killed in 2011. I will present evidence that he was very ill, that he denied involvement in 9/11, and that two Pakistani sources attested (inadvertently) to his death in 2001. I will also show with absolute proof that FBI did not place him on most wanted list because of its own admission that it had no evidence.

        But it is up to the government to prove what happened beyond a reasonable doubt. Since you exhibit blind faith in the government story, burden of proof is on you. Not me. I cannot prove a negative but you can prove BRD a positive assertion.

        • Tokarski: The proverbial Lying liar, pants on fire!

          How do Montanans put up with such a piece of crap?



          As an Active US Marine, it is common knowledge that we killed Bin Laden. There was also reasons for the photos and video shot during the raid to be kept secret….to keep active military members safe from reprisals.

          Zinke outed seal team six first.

          • Marine or not. You obviously have blind faith in the government. You said you ‘KNOW’ that we took down Bin Laden. Hate to break it to you, but I’m dead on line with Tokarski. He’s been dead since 2001 and the supposed raid that killed Bin Laden was either for political gain or some other hidden agenda.

            Seriously, look at the facts. The one pic of Bin Laden’s dead body was proven to be fake and had to be taken down from all the Mass Media Sites. He was already acclaimed dead in 2001 for serious health issues. They put a closed casket into the middle of the Ocean (where no one could find his body, BECAUSE IT WASN’T IN THAT CASKET). And finally, Mr. Marine genius, how many members of Seal Team 6 conveniently died within months after the capture (potential whistle blowers).

            I hate when people throw out that they were in a brand of the service and that makes them the all-knowing, say all, as though you were there.

            You’re blind faith in ‘Big Brother’ is a problem as it is with alot of this country.

        • The fact that you are an active marine means nothing, so set that aside. As gen Smedley Butler said, he never had a thought of his own until he left the military.

          Regarding DNA, it is only as good as the chain of custody. As far as I could tell. There was no certifiable and independently managed c of c, do that evidence is not credible.

          • There’s no proof that would satisfy you, Mark. Photos and video are largely irrelevant, as they can be easily tampered with a well.

            Consider this, however. Shortly before the raid, a CIA agent openly shot two armed ISS agents, thus outing himself and severely damaging US-Pakistani relations. Suppose he did so for a reason? American troops most assuredly entered Pakistan, shot some people, and left. They had never done this openly before, nor since. Pakistani citizens were arrested for supposedly helping a fake polio vaccine program to help find bin Laden; his Saudi (Yemeni? Somewhere on the peninsula, I don’t have time to look it up) wife was also arrested in Pakistan.

            Now, it’s possible that someone else was killed in that compound who the DoD or CIA deemed important, and the bin Laden tag was thrown on because whoever was actually killed was not notorious enough to justify in the eyes of the public an incursion into a sovereign, non-enemy nation. That seems quite possible. But if we were going to fake kill bin Laden, why not fake kill him in Afghanistan, the country we invaded to get at him and where the presence of US troops wouldn’t cause an enormous diplomatic rift? Or, hell, fake kill him in Iraq and make it look like we needed to stay there, or fake kill him across the border with Iran (or on the way to Iran, fake kill some Iranian intelligence agents with him). If it were me making the call, I’d fake kill him in a fake drone strike in Yemen and watch criticism of that policy vanish into mist. If all the information is being filtered and fabricated by the Deep State to manipulate us and justify their actions, they could certainly do better than fake killing a man in a country we are supposedly allied with using a tactic we have no intention of using again.

              • There can be no hard evidence, Mark, that cannot be faked. But there are a great many circumstances difficult or irrational to fabricate that support a thesis that a target of higher value than any previously or subsequently killed was in that building.

                • There can be DNA evidence independently examined, photographic evidence, all verified by independent sources. There can be a body, the best evidence of all. I thought that when they told us t’s hey dumped it in the ocean that at least one of you would see through the ruse.

                  But not one of you did.

                • 1. You are proposing that the American army shoot someone, then hand their body over to ‘unbiased’ authorities that even you would trust? And these authorities are….? In the end the body is irrelevant, as the closest you would get is pictures of a body, impossible to verify.

                  2. That’s also irrelevant. As I said, it is entirely possible that the person killed in that compound was not Osama bin Laden, and that Osama bin Laden was never as significant as most Americans thought. But all the evidence suggests that someone strategically important to both Pakistani intelligence and the US military died there.

                • The body is the best evidence. It tells the story. Without it you have nothing. Don’t sit there and tell me we have to accept their word on this without evidence! That’s your particular problem, not mine. Produce a body.

                  Does it not trouble you even a little that they said they threw it away? Good god! Credulity, thy name be …

                  You actually used the words “all the evidence suggests…” without even a hint of self-awareness. You’ve no guile, no ability to parse details, no suspiciousness in your nature. This makes you a just another pedestrian.

              • There was an explosion on the compound, according to a Pakistani witness. I saw the interview and have a transcript of the interview, which itself is no longer available. But I cannot attest to its credibility. I know you’re making a joke here anyway. You’re capable of much funnier ones. A rabbi and a priest walk into a bar …

                • I am lost here … You’re debating the surface materials on a helicopter that the pentagon won’t even admit crashed that night? The witness I cited, disputable of course, says that it was blown up, bodies everywhere. Three came in, one landed, exploded. If there was a HVT, he got taken out too, along with the schmucks who thought they were doing God’s work.

                  If that is case, then SOP would be for an “accident” to occur later that covered the fatalities, which is why Seal team members would be riding a NG helicopter likely snot down by other special ops. No person, no problem.

                  This means that circumstantial evidence does not do any more than make proof beyond reasonable doubt even further beyond grasp.

                • The evidence of the photograph of the tail phin of what aviation experts substantiate as a prototype or forerunner of a new class of stealth upgraded black hawk helicopters. For your version of events to be true the US military intentionally destroyed one of these valuable vehicles and left evidence of it behind where they would have knowingly exposed examination of its stealth surface materials to their enemies. This circumstantially does not add up in your favor. If your version made any sense they could have just blown up a dated version of it and then not risked any exposure of military secrets.

  • The minute Zinke came upon the scene, after he separated from the Navy he was a person not to be trusted. He either had to leave or charges were gonna be filed… thats at least the rumors I heard as well….. good article Don and another space to watch for the truth about Zinke.

  • I hadn’t heard of Osama-killing-denierz. Interesting. The president’s strategy didn’t get Osama bin Laden because he was already dead [insert credible evidence here]. This is yet another verse in a now-familiar refrain: global warming is a hoax, Obama was born in Kenya, and all the creatures on earth owe their existence to Noah and his ark.
    Really, how do you refute this b.s?

    • You simply offer hard evidence. If you have none, you assume that no conclusions can be drawn.

      You have no evidence. Why do you believe without it?

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