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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Resigns Amid Scandals

With a tweet from the president on Saturday morning, the public learns that yet another embattled cabinet member will lose his job. Zinke, a former congressman from Montana, is the subject of numerous investigations and controversies.
December 17, 2018, 5am PST | Irvin Dawid
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U.S. Department of the Interior

“Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years,” Mr. Trump wrote on Twitter, report Julie Turkewitz and Coral Davenport for The New York Times. Zinke was tapped in December 2016 to be the nominee for Interior secretary.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's departure comes amid numerous ethics investigations into his business dealings, travel and policy decisions. ... Mr. Trump had tolerated the seemingly endless drips of scandal surrounding Mr. Zinke in part because he liked him personally.

Zinke submitted his resignation, according to Washington Post reporters Juliet EilperinJosh Dawsey, and Darryl Fears.

 [T]he White House had been pushing Zinke to resign for weeks, administration officials said. Last month, these officials said, Zinke was told he had until the end of the year to exit or be fired.

"Rather than working across the aisle and across the country to preserve our country’s natural legacy, Zinke will be remembered for his corrupt behavior and his constant attacks on the lands, waters and wildlife that we all hold dear," stated Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune.

Similarities to another controversial cabinet member

In an Oct. 30 Times article about an inquiry into a Montana land deal involving Mr. Zinke and the chairman of the energy giant Halliburton, Davenport noted the comparison made to Scott Pruitt, former administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, who resigned in July.

“It’s similar to Pruitt,” said Patrick A. Parenteau, an expert in energy and environment law at Vermont Law School. “It suggests someone who doesn’t really have a deep respect for law and procedure, who likes to cut corners and go right up to the edge of the law.”

Elections have consequences

Another factor that played into Zinke's decision to submit his resignation was the result of the midterm elections which saw the Democrats gain control of the House of Representatives. Zinke has feuded with Representative Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Tucson, Ariz.), the incoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

A few months ago, the White House Counsel’s Office indicated to some West Wing aides that officials would be less likely to be subpoenaed by the new House majority if they left before the new Congress was sworn in in January.

"[A]fter 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations," tweeted Zinke.


Waiting in the wings is Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, also a subject of considerable controversy. "Democrats called him a 'walking conflict of interest' for representing corporate interests opposed to regulations at the department that aim to help clean air and water," notes a July 2017 post on his confirmation by the Senate.

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Published on Saturday, December 15, 2018 in The New York Times
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