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Why is Ryan Zinke Hiding His Military Records? Because He Has Something to Hide

zinkegunIt seems like a fairly simple observation to conclude that Ryan Zinke is hiding his military records from Montana voters. His campaign, in the latest version of their refusal to release his complete military records, claims now to have finally requested the materials on September 1, 2014, months after allegations about his records finally reached the Montana press.

It’s possible, and even likely, that Zinke is lying about having requested the records even on that late date. As Charles Johnson reports, the Navy said there was no such request:

She said she called the Navy Personnel Command shortly after submitting Zinke’s request and someone told her the office likely hadn’t received it yet. DeMars said she was told the second time she called that it often takes 60 days or longer to process and release an entire record.
A Navy customer service agent initially told the Gazette State Bureau on Wednesday she couldn’t find a request for the records from Zinke and later said it was a “controlled record.”

Despite this apparent contradiction, the Zinke campaign doubled down on its increasingly shrill assertions that there’s nothing to hide in Zinke’s record:

“We have put in a request for the records, but there is nothing in the records from 1999 — or during any other period of Ryan’s service — that is anything but extraordinary,” Zinke campaign spokeswoman Shelby DeMars said.

How Ms. DeMars could possibly know that about Mr. Zinke’s records, despite never having seen them, is certainly hard to understand, and her claim illustrates the strategy has used for months to deflect criticisms about his record: to claim it was “exemplary” throughout his career without providing the easily accessible evidence that would prove or disprove his assertion.

With his characteristic modesty, Zinke has repeatedly claimed that he had an exemplary career in the SEALs, a claim could very well be true, but which is seriously undermined by his repeated deceptions and distractions about his complete record.

Consider this: back in August, Zinke claimed that he had already provided “his entire military record” to the press, telling David Parker that he had shown it to Charles Johnson:

You know, I sat down with Chuck Johnson of the AP (sic)and I brought my entire military record. As long as people are legitimate, you know, uh, journalists, I have no problem. My record speaks for itself.

That, of course, was a lie then, and it’s a lie today.

Another problem is that Zinke’s record “can’t speak for itself” because he won’t release the records. Today’s story in the Indepdent Record also finally includes the claims of one of Zinke’s former commanders, Captain Larry Bailey, who said that Zinke’s 1999 fitness report contained damaging claims “designed not to get him promoted.” You might remember reading about that here back in May.

And as the Montana Cowgirl blog reported in August, Zinke even redacted information from his military separation document.

Another aspect of the story that I speculated about back in August was that there’s clearly something in the records that hurt Zinke’s military advancement. Back then, I wrote:

Zinke went through his records and selected a few more positive evaluations and citations for release, skipping over the period of time he was punished by the Navy for a series of charges about the misuse of funds.

Ironically, I think the positive reports Zinke furnished the media actually make the case that there is something quite negative in his earlier record. At least three times between 1998 and 2004, his superior officer recommended that Zinke be promoted to Captain and considered for higher command. And yet he never was.

So, here we are, two weeks from the election for the U.S. House, and one candidate, a candidate whose sole discernible qualification for the office he seeks is his military service, has done everything in his power to prevent the public from seeing his full military record. If, as Zinke has claimed for months, his service record is the unimpeachable legend of a sailor without a blemish on it, why has he let conservative Republicans, liberal bloggers, and now, finally, reporters, raise so many questions about it? Why not show that we’re wrong?

There’s only one answer: the record contains something so damaging that Zinke isn’t willing to let us see it, and like his attacks on fellow Republicans,  RIght to Life activists, and anyone else who has had the temerity to stand in the way of his ambition, he’s content to call us liars, while refusing to offer any proof.

It’s a shameful display, by a candidate who, from the outset of his political career, has shown himself to be remarkably shameless.


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.

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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  • Don, on behalf of Republicans throughout Montana, I would like to thank you for continually keeping the story of Ryan Zinke’s military files and his distinguished military career in the forefront this election cycle.

    Over the past year, you and other bloggers repeatedly demanded Zinke release batch after batch of his military files with accusations they contained damning revelations. Each time, on cue, Zinke turned over a stack of official records to the media that resulted in front page stories reminding voters of Zinke’s distinguished military career and high praise he received from his superiors for his leadership. These stories discredited Lewis and provided Zinke with valuable free positive statewide publicity.

    You are at it again. Get ready for a repeat of the same this week.

    Zinke has been playing Lewis, and you like a fine tuned piano. My bet is that sometime in the next few days (4 to 5 days before the November 4th General Election), Zinke will once again release all of the specified files for the targeted dates you and Lewis have been demanding. Instead of the damaging records you Zinke Haters have been fantasizing about, the press will announce that: A. Lewis is wrong “again”, B. There are no incriminating files and C. the newly released records report more glowing recognition and praise by fellow officers of Zinke’s distinguished military career. All in time for the Sunday papers and the last get out the vote efforts. Zinke will get free positive press and Lewis will once again have egg on his face.

    Zinke has maintained a stable lead of 7+ points over the past two months with no sign of erosion. I expect that margin of support to strengthen even more after the free round of positive media stories Lewis and Don will be handing to him later this week.

    • Wow! You really ARE a pudit, dude! Yes, I purposely left out the pun, for your entire POST is a joke! Too funny, lil’ outtt state fella!

      • Correction Larry – I live in Montana and was raised in Montana. My parents, grandparents and uncles have a long stake in Montana’s history.

        • Yes, I seem to remember meeting some Possums on time. But you may have been right on this one. Slinky was able to redact most all the good stuff outta his records it looks like.

  • (Looks like my comments are still in “Moderation” so I will try again without the links.)

    As promised, Zinke released his 1999 fitness report. Here are the highlights, Don:
    Thought you would be interested in reading the findings of Zinke’s recently released fitness reports you have been so adamantly demanding. Here are the highlights from a few of Montana’s newspapers.

    From the Billings Gazette

    “……his June 1999 fitness report comments includes such descriptions of Zinke’s performance such as “(d)ynamic decisive and intelligent. Excels at the most complex taskings and assignments.”
    It says he provided “outstanding operational and fiduciary oversight for over 200 command high-risk training events while managing an annual O&M (operations and maintenance) budget in excel of $10 (million).”
    It said Zinke was singled out for “a nothing short of spectacular performance.”
    Zinke was recommended for early promotion in the fitness report. It also recommended that he attend the Navy War College.”

    “…..after the June 1999 fitness report, he later was promoted to be an executive officer and later a commander, selected to be a mission commander in Kosovo, selected to be a deputy and acting commander over special forces in Iraq, and later was officer in charge of SEAL advanced training and then chose to retire. He received two Bronze Stars and four Meritorious Service medals.”

    From the Missoulian

    “It was filled with praise for Zinke that included: “(h)igh-energy, results oriented officer.” It was written by a different superior officer who said he had had four executive officers in two command torus and Zinke is moving to the top of the list.”

    It concluded by calling Zinke “a savvy, experienced war-fighter proving equally adept in management.” The report said Lt. Cmdr. Zinke “has my complete trust and confidence.” It recommended promoting Zinke to commander as soon as possible and sending him to War College.


    In a fitness report on Zinke in late July 2001, his superior officer said: “My number one CDR (commander) and ranks among the finest officers that I have served with during my 36 years of active duty. A superstar who has earned my complete trust and strongest personal recommendations for an immediate CO (commanding officer) assignment. … If you screen just one officer for command, screen CDR (Commander) Zinke. He is that good!”

    A July 2004 fitness report called Zinke a “brilliant” chief staff officer “who excels at leading the largest command in Naval Special Warfare. In my 28 years of active duty, nobody does it better or with more enthusiasm, integrity and courageous leadership. … A superstar.”
    His fitness reports both before the June 1999 report and after it until he retired were filled with similar praise.”

    Thank you for keeping this issue in front of Montana voters, Don. It helped Zinke pick up a fortune in positive earned media and has left Lewis noticeably silent.

    FYI, the Gravis Poll just came out – Zinke 53% – Lewis 41%

    • You give Don too much credit, possum. The inbreds have invaded! We should’a built a wall around Montana long ago. We are NOT a red state, but an inbred state! We even gots ourselves a creation museum! Yee ha! We’s Kentucky del Norte!

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