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.
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
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.