In his bid for the US House, Ryan Zinke has primarily relied on three strategies: reminding people that he was a Navy SEAL, shifting from being a moderate Republican to fire breathing conservative on almost every issue, and calling those who point out those inconsistencies liars. The latest Zinke controversy involves a nexus of all three, as after being called out by his former commanding officer for improprieties in the Navy, Zinke and his surrogates have offered a misleading defense centered on attacking the credibility of his critics and attempting to redirect legitimate questions about Zinke’s actual military record.
On Friday, a letter was circulated by Captain Larry Bailey, who commanded Zinke’s SEAL class. In the letter, Bailey suggested that Zinke has routinely inflated his military resume, understated the seriousness of travel transgressions in the middle of his career, and used Special Operations for America as an unethical platform for promoting Zinke himself.
In response, the Zinke campaign released what they are calling his “service record,” despite it being a two page document listing only the events of 2004. That’s hardly a service record, which would contain hundreds of pages for a career as long as Zinke’s. When Senator John Walsh released his military records, the resulting document was 378 pages long, and included every relevant detail of his career. That Zinke would release a two page document, one that deliberately does not include details about his travel reimbursement scam, makes it seem quite obvious that Zinke has something to hide.
Zinke’s supporters went a step further. Former candidate for Superintendent of Public Instruction and Zinke supporter Sandy Welch not only leveled a dishonest attack against Captain Bailey, despite the latter contacting her and correcting her information by e-mail, but attacked former GOP gubernatorial candidate Rick Hill, by posting his draft registration card from the Vietnam War era. How that answers criticism of Zinke’s record is unclear, but it does demonstrate just how desperate Zinke supporters are to deflect attention from their candidate.
Despite these attacks, Captain Bailey, who not only trained Zinke as a SEAL but who worked with him during the 2012 campaign, held fast in his claims, arguing that a look at Zinke’s full military service records demonstrates that Zinke has been dishonest about his military service. Tellingly, Bailey notes a particular report, Zinke’s fitness report (FITREP) for the period ending on June 15,1999, as the one that ended any hopes Zinke had of being promoted to captain.
In an interview with Northwest Liberty News, Captain Bailey reiterated his criticism of Zinke and spelled out the specific allegations that derailed Zinke’s career in the Navy. He claimed that Zinke, because of his travel improprieties and other transgressions, became “dead in the water for promotion to captain.”
A few months ago, the Montana political press was obsessed with John Walsh’s military records, because a single subordinate filed a complaint against him. In response, Senator Walsh released his entire service record, ending the story. Yet the same media has been strangely silent when it comes to Senator Zinke’s military service record, despite infighting between top Montana Republicans, rumors that have dogged Zinke for years, and now, the statement of a former commanding officer, a SEAL who has seen Zinke’s records.
The answer is clear: Senator Zinke should release his full military service record. If Zinke won’t, the Montana political press should start investigating–and demanding that he do so. Montana voters deserve to know what kind of candidate they’re voting for, and given Zinke’s almost total focus on his military service, it’s more than fair to know just how he served.