Interior watchdog refers Zinke probe to Justice Department

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Interior Department’s internal watchdog has referred an investigation of Secretary Ryan Zinke to the Justice Department, signaling a potential escalation amid a series of inquiries into Zinke’s conduct.

Two people familiar with the investigation said Interior’s office of inspector general referred a case to Justice. It is not clear what the investigation is focused on.

Zinke faces a number of probes, including one centered on a Montana land deal involving a foundation he created and the chairman of Halliburton, a prominent energy services company that does business with Interior.

Investigators also are reviewing Zinke’s decision to block two tribes from opening a casino in Connecticut and his recommendation to shrink a Utah national monument.

Zinke denies wrongdoing. The Justice Department referral was first reported by The Washington Post.

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