Zinke resigning – finally

THINK PROGRESS – Ryan Zinke will end his tenure as Interior Secretary at the end of the year, Donald Trump tweeted on Saturday.

The news comes amidst a whirlwind of scandal surrounding the secretary and as inquiries into his misconduct, including an investigation referred to the Justice Department in late October for potential criminal violations.

Good government groups and environmental groups cheered the announcement.

Friends of the Earth

VICTORY! Ryan Zinke will resign as @interior secretary amid his massive corruption and scandals. Zinke’s days of plundering our lands and using his public office for personal gain are over. https://foe.org/news/ryan-zinke-resigns-amid-scandals-corruption/ …

Ryan Zinke resigns amid scandals, corruption
Zinke’s days of plundering our lands and enriching himself and his friends are over. With an average of nearly one federal investigation opened into his conduct in office per month, Zinke’s highly…

Citizens for Ethics

It’s because of all those federal investigations into him, right? https://www.citizensforethics.org/a-guide-to-the-14-federal-investigations-into-ryan-zinke/ …

Donald J. Trump

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. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation…….

Zinke’s departure comes a month after the midterm elections, which saw Democrats take back the House.

California Governor Jerry Brown and FEMA Adminstrator Brock Long look on as U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke holds up a child’s school work as they tour a school burned by the Camp Fire on November 14, 2018 in Paradise, California. CREDIT: Justin Sullivan/Getty Images
California wildfires are the fault of ‘radical environmentalists,’ says Zinke
When asked about Zinke’s fate the day after the elections, President Donald Trump said during a White House press conference “we’re looking at that,” adding they may have an answer “in a week.”

Zinke’s conduct spurred at least 15 different federal investigations during his time in President Donald Trump’s cabinet, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW). With Democrats back in control of the House — and with their promise to ramp up oversight — it’s likely Zinke’s actions would have faced increased scrutiny.

Mark Hand
A ‘walking conflict of interest’ is expected to take over as Interior secretary when Ryan Zinke leaves at the end of the year, creating even more ethical headaches for the agency. https://thinkprogress.org/interior-deputys-long-career-as-a-lobbyist-creates-headaches-for-departments-ethics-officials-20c5b902b8b0/ …

‘Walking conflict of interest’ Deputy Interior Secretary creates ethical headaches for the agency
David Bernhardt advised to cancel speech on water issues in Colorado.

While some of the investigatory findings have cleared the secretary of wrongdoing, a number were closed unresolved due to either a lack of cooperation from the Interior Department or insufficiently maintained records. Several of the probes that remain open center on whether Zinke used his public office for personal gain.

This includes an investigation into his involvement in a Montana land deal backed by the chairman of oil giant Halliburton. Another examines his decision not to grant two tribes approval for a Connecticut casino following lobbying from gambling giant MGM Resorts International.

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke is tied to a real estate deal backed by Halliburton chair. (Credit: Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
Ethics questions surround Zinke’s ties to a Halliburton real estate deal in Montana
Just weeks prior to the announcement of his impending departure, the Interior Department’s inspector general had referred at least one of their ongoing investigations to the Department of Justice (DOJ). According to both the New York Times and the Washington Post, it is the Montana land deal investigation that was referred to the Justice Department.

Cases are only referred to the DOJ in situations where potential criminal violations may have occurred. And on November 1, it was reported that the White House has been “growing increasingly concerned” about the investigation. According to officials who spoke to the Washington Post, “Trump told his aides that he is afraid Zinke has broken rules while serving as the interior secretary and is concerned about the Justice Department referral.”

U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke participates in a ribbon cutting ceremony at the newly restored Lockkeeper’s House on the National Mall October 23, 2018 in Washington, DC. CREDIT: Chip Somodevilla/Getty Images
Zinke’s conduct reportedly referred to Justice Department
The move to refer the case to the Justice Department also came amid confusion regarding the status of the Interior Department’s watchdog itself.

Earlier in October, it was reported that the Interior Department was going to replace its acting inspector general — who has been in the position since 2009 — with a Republican political appointee from the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD). An Interior spokesperson disputed this account and it seems the department’s acting inspector general is still in their position. Meanwhile, the person named as the potential replacement from HUD has since resigned from the department.

According to The Hill, however, Interior’s inspector general office referred the investigation to the DOJ before the reported attempts to reassign a Trump appointee to the role. One source speaking to The Hill called the timing “incredibly circumspect.”

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. CREDIT: NICHOLAS KAMM/AFP/Getty Images
Transfer of Trump political operative to Interior’s IG office angers oversight experts
Zinke is the second administration official tasked with setting environmental policy to leave amid growing scandals and investigations.

In July, former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt stepped down from his post. Among other issues, his resignation came after the EPA inspector general referred a case involving Pruitt’s sweetheart condo deal with the wife of an energy lobbyist to the Justice Department.

Sierra Club

Wildlife across the US upon hearing of Zinke’s departure. #ByeZinke

Several other cabinet secretaries and senior administration officials have similarly resigned from the Trump White House in his limited time in office. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned last September after it was revealed he spent nearly half a million taxpayer dollars on first class flights. Staff secretary Rob Porter stepped down in February after both of his ex-wives accused him of domestic abuse. In all, more than three dozen officials have publicly resigned or been fired in less than two years in office.

Like Pruitt, Zinke’s tenure at the Interior Department was not only marked by scandal but by a persistent effort to serve the interests of fossil fuel and mining industries. During one industry event, Zinke told the oil and gas industry that “the government should work for you.”

The Trump administration’s efforts to shrink national monuments — led by Zinke’s Interior Department — was, for instance, motivated specifically by the desire to open up more land to fossil fuel and mining extraction.

Mark Hand
Let the memory live again. The time Ryan Zinke ordered a Park Police helicopter to fly him back to Washington in time for a late-afternoon horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence. https://thinkprogress.org/ryan-zinke-rides-helicopters-5defa8d76329/ …

Ryan Zinke orders helicopter to get him to horseback ride with Mike Pence on time
Interior secretary orders U.S. Park Police to fly him to events near Washington.

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Zinke also oversaw the rollback of offshore drilling rules that were put in place after the BP Deepwater Horizon disaster in the Gulf of Mexico. Along with this came removing the requirement for companies to disclose the types of chemicals used in fracking.

The former secretary also faced criticism for the way he ran the department internally. Questions over scientific integrity and the censoring of climate science have plagued the department. And under his leadership, Zinke has made controversial moves to reorganize the department as well as facing criticism for disproportionately targeting women and Native Americans in a series of reassignments last year.

Whitefish, MT – Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project, released the following statement in response to news that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will soon leave his post:

“Ryan Zinke’s tenure at the Department of Interior was a disaster for public lands of historic proportions. The public and Congress should continue their commitment to vigilant oversight over the ongoing ethical abuses at Interior in order to repair its reputation.”

Western Values Project, based in Whitefish, Montana, defends America’s public lands through research and public education in order to hold policymakers and elected leaders accountable for jeopardizing the West’s outdoor heritage.

Udall Statement on Resignation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

WASHINGTON — Today, U.S. Senator Tom Udall (D-N.M.), ranking member on the Senate Appropriations Subcommittee on the Interior, Environment and Related Agencies, released the following statement after President Trump announced Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s resignation:

“Ryan Zinke pledged to lead the Interior Department in the tradition of Teddy Roosevelt, but unfortunately, he proudly carried the torch for the Trump administration’s campaign of relentless attacks on our public lands, waters, Tribal sovereignty, and the environment. He leaves behind a legacy of repeatedly putting the interests of industry ahead of the people and the land that it was his job to safeguard.

“The next Interior Secretary must understand and value the purpose of this critical agency, and live up to its mission to protect and manage our gravely threatened public lands, waters, environment, and wildlife. We need an Interior Secretary who doesn’t just listen to corporate lobbyists and donors, but who will closely consult with Tribes and listen to the overwhelming majority of the American people who want to see our land and environment protected.

“Unfortunately, even with Secretary Zinke’s resignation, the Trump Interior Department appears poised to continue its destructive, special-interests first agenda. If the president intends to nominate David Bernhardt to lead the agency, Mr. Bernhardt must come before the Senate to be fully vetted for this position so that his many serious conflicts of interest can be examined and brought to light. And whoever leads the Interior Department going forward must be held to the highest ethical standards to ensure they are putting the public interest first.”

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