Before his rocky tenure as Secretary of the Interior came to a close in December, Ryan Zinke was a man on edge.
He was worried about liberal protesters, who had started badgering Trump officials and other conservatives in public places around Washington. He was suspicious of his anti-Trump neighbors. And he was furious with relentless news coverage of the proliferating inquiries into his management and behavior.
All of which helps to explain the strange night of Nov. 5, when Zinke called U.S. Park Police about a minor disagreement over parking outside his Capitol Hill home. The U.S. Park Police, a division of the Interior Department, is in charge of Zinke’s security.
“You would have sent the cavalry” if a call came in from the secretary, said Park Police spokesman Eduardo Delgado.
Zinke made the call while he and some friends were drinking beer and watching the Tennessee Titans play the Dallas Cowboys. In an interview this week, Zinke said he was grilling when he heard a commotion on the street. One of his guests stepped out, spoke to some neighbors and then alerted Zinke: “We have a possible reporter outside.’”
Given the media scrutiny he’d been under in the weeks before his resignation, Zinke said, “It seemed a little too coincidental for me to have an incident like that and have it not be a reporter.”
“The questions asked were not neighbor questions,” he said.
In fact, there was no reporter out front. Two of Zinke’s neighbors had confronted the driver of a large black SUV that was idling outside the house and taking up more than one parking space. After being berated by the neighbors, the driver, an off-duty New York police officer playing chauffeur for one of Zinke’s guests, eventually drove away.
Zinke told The Post that he never established that there was ever a reporter outside his house.
But that’s not what he and his guest told the cops. This week, the U.S. Park Police released two reports from that night in response to a Freedom of Information Act request from The Hill newspaper. The first of the two reports was filed by Officer B. Ricardi, the officer who routinely patrols the Lincoln Park neighborhood of Capitol Hill. According to his report, he spoke to Paul Legere, one of the angry neighbors, who told him about the idling Mercedes SUV and the subsequent confrontation.
“US Park Police units patrolled the area .... and made frequent checks of the location to ensure there were no other suspicious acts,” Ricardi wrote.
A week later, after The Post and other outlets reported on the neighborhood squabble, Ricardi’s supervisor, Sgt. M. Cooney, filed a second report. That report includes an interview with Zinke, who is identified as Complainant 1, or C1, and his guest, whose name is redacted. He is described as Complainant 2, or C2.
Zinke said C2 is a man named Scott. He declined to identify him, except to say that it was not Scott Hommel, his chief of staff.
“I’m not going to disclose who was watching football at my private party," Zinke said.
According to that report, C2 told police that there were two incidents that night outside Zinke’s house. First, he said, a “black 4-door Mercedes SUV” stopped out front. Inside was an “individual [who] stated that he was from The Washington Post and made statements such as ‘I know why you’re here,’ and ‘I know you’re with him,’ the report said. C2 described the “reporter” as male, aggressive, agitated and a screamer. After the “reporter” drove off, C2 said, Zinke called police.
In the report, Cooney also describes talking with Legere and the other angry neighbor, Gina Arlotto -- neither of whom said they saw any reporters.
Delgado declined to make Cooney or Ricardi available. He said he could not explain why they filed two reports a week apart. Cooney, Delgado said, “may have heard a different story.” Asked if police would fact-check falsehoods, Delgado said, “I don’t believe so. They’re just documenting what was told them. We get lied to all the time.”
Meanwhile, neither report has any mention of one of the strangest moments of the night: When Legere says a man stepped out of Zinke’s house and claimed to be the secretary.
“He said, ‘I’m Ryan Zinke," Legere recalled. "’I said, ‘Dude, you’re not Zinke.’ "
At that point, Legere said, the man said his name was Scott.
In his interview with The Post, Zinke denied that any of his guests had impersonated him. He had harsh words for Arlotto, a woman he described as “not a friend of the administration.” Zinke said Arlotto confronted the driver who was hogging multiple parking spaces and yelled obscenities about Zinke and President Trump. After that, he said, "the whole incident ballooned up.”
Contacted this week by The Post, Arlotto said she was stunned by Zinke’s account, adding that “I never raised my voice at the driver.” While Arlotto acknowledged that she is no fan of either Trump or Zinke’s policies, she said she has always been a cordial neighbor. The claim that she “was yelling obscenities is an absolute lie," Arlotto said.
Nearly three months later, Arlotto said neighbors still kid her about that night.
“People walk up to me and say, ‘Hey, I’m Ryan Zinke.’ Because it’s a total joke.”