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Interior Secretary Zinke says he welcomes investigation into Puerto Rico reconstruction contract

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Friday he welcomed an investigation into a heavily criticized contract to rebuild Puerto Rico’s power grid.

Congressional Democrats have called for an investigation into how a Whitefish, Mont., company was granted a $300 million contract to repair downed transmission lines in Puerto Rico. Whitefish Energy Holdings had just two full-time employees at the time the contract was awarded. It is headquartered in the hometown of Zinke, the former congressman who now runs the Department of Interior. Whitefish has a population of just over 7,000 people.

“Neither myself nor anyone in my office has advocated for this company in anyway,” wrote Zinke in a statement Friday. “After the initial contract was awarded, I was contacted by the company, on which I took no action. All records, which are being made available to appropriate officials, will prove no involvement. I welcome any and all investigations into these allegations, and encourage the Interior Department’s Inspector General to investigate this matter fully.”

Zinke did not state when all records would be made available to the public.

The White House and the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) have denied any connection to the deal, stating that it was a decision made by local authorities in Puerto Rico. Puerto Rican Gov. Ricardo Rossello has said there will be “hell to pay” if investigators find any wrongdoing. The contract says FEMA signed off on the deal, but the agency has disputed that assertion.

Puerto Rico Electric Power Authority has already awarded $3.7 million to Whitefish Energy Holdings to mobilize personnel and equipment. The deal sets the pay rate for subcontractors — the bulk of the company’s work force — at over $300 per hour.

“I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico,” added Zinke. “Any attempts by the dishonest media or political operatives to tie me to awarding or influencing any contract involving Whitefish are completely baseless. Only in elitist Washington, D.C., would being from a small town be considered a crime.”

Zinke is currently under investigation for the use of a private plane to give a speech to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, the NHL team owned by a donor to Zinke’s previous congressional campaigns. He has also ordered staffers to raise a special flag at the Department of Interior headquarters in Washington, D.C., whenever he enters the building and has commissioned special coins with his name on them to give to visitors.

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