Ryan Zinke

Ryan Zinke

A recent fundraising email from Montana's Republican U.S. House candidate Ryan Zinke suggests he took part in killing Osama bin Laden.

The Aug. 21 email with the subject line “Who killed Osama bin Laden?” was signed by Zinke and asked for $25 and $50 donations.

The fourth line of the email was bolded and read: “I spent 23 years as a Navy SEAL and served as a Team Leader on SEAL Team Six — the team responsible for the mission to get Osama bin Laden.”

What the email does not say is that Zinke retired from the Navy on Jan. 30, 2008, more than three years before bin Laden was killed.

“If you read it carefully it does not say that I killed bin Laden,” Zinke said. “What it says is that I was a member of SEAL Team Six, which I have always included.”

Helena's John Hollow, 70, received Zinke's email. He is a former Navy SEAL who saw action in Vietnam in 1969-1970 with SEAL Team One.

“It's important to know that there are three or four other emails preceding that,” Hollow said. “There's one that says the radical left's infiltration is going to take over because of the apathy of patriots.”

The SEAL veteran said Zinke was acting inappropriately and that he received the email because the UDT-SEAL Association, a nonprofit veterans support organization, gave Zinke a list of former special warfare personnel when Zinke was chair of the Special Operations for America political action committee.

“I know people as far ranging as Texas who got the email, too,” Hollow said.

Hollow also said it was wrong for Zinke to not credit the large force structure in place that led to the death of Al Qaeda's leader.

“That's what bothers me. I always thought the regular infantry had the tougher job in Vietnam,” Hollow said. “I also wouldn't choose to take an approach that was divisive, that didn't recognize that it took a presidential directive in 2009 to refocus this and a presidential decision in 2011 to execute it.”

On that point Zinke agreed, saying that it took thousands of service members to facilitate the death of bin Laden.

“The only guy that wasn't directly involved in it was me,” Zinke laughed.

Asked how the death of bin Laden was relevant to his congressional campaign, Zinke said, “The connection is Ryan Zinke did two tours with our nation's finest.”

Zinke, a former state senator from Whitefish, founded the anti-President Barack Obama SOFA PAC in June 2012.

He used it to raise and spend money in support of Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney. The PAC's most popular attack was that Obama had politicized the killing of bin Laden.

“Navy SEALs, special operations personnel and veterans across America have been outraged since Barack Obama conveniently took credit for killing Osama Bin Laden for political gain,” read an early SOFA PAC news release.

Zinke denied that his reference to bin Laden while soliciting campaign funds was a politicization of the Navy SEALS or the killing of bin Laden.

“What I am doing is reiterating that I was a commander at SEAL Team Six,” Zinke said.

Navy SEALS have been told by top leadership to stop using their experience for personal gain.

“We do not advertise the nature of our work, nor do we seek recognition for our actions,” Rear Adm. Sean Pybus wrote after the release of a 2012 book by a Navy SEAL that detailed the mission to get bin Laden. At the time he led the Naval Special Warfare Command.

“Today, we find former SEALs headlining positions in a presidential campaign; hawking details about a mission against enemy number one; and generally selling other aspects of NSW training and operations. For an elite force that should be humble and disciplined for life, we are certainly not appearing to be so,” wrote Pybus to the special warfare community.

Zinke's political campaign motors around the state in a tour bus bearing the Navy SEAL's emblem – a ship's anchor and eagle with wings spread grasping a trident and pistol.

In 2012, the Department of Defense told Zinke that his Super PAC could not use military service branch insignia on its website. The Navy could not be reached Friday for comment on Zinke's use of the SEAL's insignia.

Prior to announcing his candidacy for the U.S. House, Zinke resigned from the PAC's leadership. Since then the Super PAC, which can accept unlimited amounts of money from donors, has spent $252,561 supporting Zinke.

Zinke ran as a moderate Republican candidate. He was bitterly attacked by tea party candidate Matt Rosendale, who called Zinke a liberal ally of Montana's former Democratic Gov. Brian Schweitzer.

Zinke won the race with 33.2 percent of the vote. Rosendale and fellow Republican Corey Stapleton split the conservative vote – both taking 29 percent.

In the November election, Zinke faces Democratic candidate John Lewis and Libertarian candidate Mike Fellows.

Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com.

Troy Carter covers politics and county government for the Chronicle.

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