Sarah Sanders: Federal government had 'nothing to do' with Puerto Rico contract

The White House is standing behind U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke who has claimed no involvement in a $300 million contract awarded to Whitefish Energy, a small firm based in his Montana hometown.

During a briefing Friday, a reporter asked press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders if President Trump had asked Zinke about the deal in their meeting earlier in the day.

“[The president] did ask Secretary Zinke just for clarification purposes and he reiterated, once again, that we have no role — the federal government, and specifically he, had no role in that contract,” Sanders said.

RELATED: Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico

29 PHOTOS
Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico
See Gallery
Military helicopter teams bring aid to Puerto Rico
A woman and child walk away as soldiers in a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the U.S. Army's First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents to ascertain their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who is from Puerto Rico, inspects the rear rotor of a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents to ascertain their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, and from Puerto Rico speaks with residents to get a list of their needs during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. Picture taken October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson
Crew member Bynum stands in tropical rain as a HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit prepares to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Tropical rain splashes on a runway as HH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit wait for weather to clear during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Soldiers from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade prepare in their sleeping quarters during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria at their base in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A soldier from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade prepares in his sleeping quarters during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria at their base in Roosevelt Roads Naval Station, Puerto Rico, October 8, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Pilot Eldwin Bocanegra Torres speaks with residents isolated by landslides in the mountains after unloading water and food from a helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, near Utuado, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit takes off behind Crew Chief Alexander Blake and his fellow soldiers during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Morovis, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Crew chief Kenney shelters under the blade of an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit preparing to take off during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Pilot Joseph Swift prepares for a night flight on an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Arecibo, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
A man carries a case of water away from an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after soldiers working with 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit dropped off relief supplies during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents wait for soldiers in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade to deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter pilot Chris Greenway receives a hug from a woman thanking him for water as he works with the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Verde de Comerio, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
The contents of a home are seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Utuado, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit lands in a field to avoid lightning during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Manati, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Soldier Thomas looks out of the window of an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit, loaded with relief supplies, during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents stand in front of wind-damaged trees as they wait for soldiers in UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade to deliver food and water during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents hold their hands aloft to signal that they need water as UH-60 Blackhawk helicopters from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade fly past during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, near Ciales, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
A message written on the rooftop is seen from the air during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Humacao, Puerto Rico, October 10, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado, who is from Puerto Rico, looks for a landing spot for a UH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria near Ciales, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES. TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY
Crew chief Alexander Blake from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit loads water into a helicopter during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Isla Grande, Puerto Rico October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
An HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit lands in a field during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria in San Sebastian, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Sergeant First Class Eladio Tirado from the First Armored Division's Combat Aviation Brigade, who is from Puerto Rico, speaks with residents as he helps during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in San Lorenzo, Puerto Rico, October 7, 2017. SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Boys carry water away from an HH-60 Blackhawk helicopter after soldiers working with the U.S. Army's 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit dropped off relief supplies during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Jayuya, Puerto Rico, October 5, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
Residents peek through a fence at helicopters from 101st Airborne Division's "Dustoff" unit that had parked in a locked field during recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria, in Lares, Puerto Rico, October 6, 2017. REUTERS/Lucas Jackson SEARCH "JACKSON TIRADO" FOR THIS STORY. SEARCH "WIDER IMAGE" FOR ALL STORIES.
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

“I had absolutely nothing to do with Whitefish Energy receiving a contract in Puerto Rico. I welcome all investigations into the allegations,” Zinke shared a similar sentiment on Twitter.

He also included a statement which said, in part, “Neither myself nor anyone in my office has advocated for this company in any way.”

The controversy began after surprising information about the company and contract were reported by the media.

“Whitefish Energy, a two-year-old energy company from Zinke’s hometown, had just two employees prior to being awarded the contract last month by Puerto Rico’s quasi-public utility, PREPA,to fix part of the island’s power grid that was destroyed by Hurricane Maria,” according toBusiness Insider.

And, in addition to a reported lack of a competitive bidding process, the deal’s terms seem to be highly beneficial to the company.

RELATED: Donald Trump's visit to Puerto Rico

18 PHOTOS
Donald Trump's visit to Puerto Rico
See Gallery
Donald Trump's visit to Puerto Rico
CAROLINA, PUERTO RICO - OCTOBER 03: President Donald Trump and Melania Trump greet U.S Air Force airmen as he arrives at the Muniz Air National Guard Base as he makes a visit after Hurricane Maria hit the island on October 3, 2017 in Carolina, Puerto Rico. The President has been criticized by some that say the government's response has been inadequate. (Photo by Joe Raedle/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels into a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello (L) as they take their seats for a briefing on hurricane relief efforts in a hangar at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump visits with residents while visiting Puerto Rico to survey relief efforts following Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017 REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump gestures as he walks through a neighborhood damaged by Hurricane Maria with first lady Melania Trump as the president tours hurricane damage in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with residents as first lady Melania Trump (C) and U.S. Rep and Resident Commissioner of Puerto Rico Jenniffer Gonzalez (R) look on as the president visits areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump greets troops as he arrives aboard Air Force One, to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump shakes hands with San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz before a briefing to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump, sitting between Puerto Rico Governor Ricardo Rossello and first lady Melania Trump, sits down to a briefing on hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump depart the White House in Washington, U.S., on their way to view storm damage in Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels into a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump (L), wearing boots, arrive aboard Air Force One, to survey hurricane damage, at Muniz Air National Guard Base in Carolina, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit residents affected by Hurricane in Guaynabo, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the islands remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
US President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump visit residents affected by Hurricane in Guaynabo, west of San Juan, Puerto Rico on October 3, 2017. Nearly two weeks after Hurricane Maria thrashed through the US territory, much of the islands remains short of food and without access to power or drinking water. / AFP PHOTO / MANDEL NGAN (Photo credit should read MANDEL NGAN/AFP/Getty Images)
U.S. President Donald Trump throws rolls of paper towels to a crowd of local residents affected by Hurricane Maria as he visits a disaster relief distribution center at Calgary Chapel in San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump and first lady Melania Trump greet troops as they depart the USS Kearsarge off the coast of San Juan, Puerto Rico, U.S. October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. President Donald Trump talks with local residents during a walking tour of areas damaged by Hurricane Maria in Guaynabo, Puerto Rico, U.S., October 3, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
HIDE CAPTION
SHOW CAPTION
of
SEE ALL
BACK TO SLIDE

Lawmakers have since expressed an interest in looking into the matter further.

Meanwhile, Sanders has indicated the contract is set to undergo an audit.

“I’m not going to comment before the audit is conducted, but we certainly look forward to seeing the results of that. And once again, this was a state and local decision made by the Puerto Rican authorities and not the federal government,” she told reporters. “But we will look into the audit once it’s published.”

Read Full Story

Sign up for Breaking News by AOL to get the latest breaking news alerts and updates delivered straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our other newsletters

Emails may offer personalized content or ads. Learn more. You may unsubscribe any time.