Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke didn’t need another controversy that cast him in an unflattering light, but now that he’s been caught violating federal policies again, one of the most scandal-plagued members of Donald Trump’s cabinet is the subject of another round of critical headlines.
Politico reported overnight:
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke sought to skirt or alter department policies to justify his taxpayer-funded trips with his wife, the agency’s inspector general said in the latest critical report on travel practices by President Donald Trump’s Cabinet members.
Zinke’s maneuvers included pressing Interior staffers to research whether his wife, Lola, could become a volunteer at the agency, a move the employees said was designed to enable her to travel with him at taxpayer expense, according to a report obtained by POLITICO that the inspector general’s office will release next week. It said he also violated Interior policy by have her travel with him in federal vehicles.
Taken in isolation, this may seem like a fairly minor transgression. If Zinke’s record were otherwise spotless, and there were no other concerns about his record on ethics, it might be easier to overlook these revelations.
But as regular readers know, the Interior secretary’s record is most certainly not otherwise spotless.
Recent revelations about the Halliburton mess, for example, have already sparked an investigation. But there’s a lot more where that came from.
In just one week in April, for example, we learned that the Interior secretary made repeated false claims about being a geologist; his department relied on “a top energy industry lobbyist to help draft a list of potential regulatory rollbacks”; and his department inspector general concluded that Zinke “failed to disclose relevant information to ethics officials when he traveled to Las Vegas to speak to the Golden Knights hockey team last year … including the fact that one of his biggest campaign donors owned the team.”
But that was just the start. Those revelations followed a report from two weeks prior in which we learned the FEC is asking a leadership PAC previously affiliated with Zinke “to account for more than $600,000 of previously unreported contributions from the first six months of 2017.” The same day, TPM reported that a third of the senior Interior Department career officials reassigned under Zinke in a major agency reshuffling “are Native American, even though Native Americans make up less than 10 percent of the Department’s workforce.”
And those are just the controversies from the early spring. As we discussed a while back, there are questions about the cabinet secretary’s controversial travel habits. And his alleged intimidation tactics against Republican senators during the health care fight. And the investigation into whether he reassigned an Interior scientist who disclosed how climate change affects Alaska Native communities.
There are the resignations at the National Park System Advisory Board. And his sweetheart deal for Florida on coastal oil drilling. And the story about Zinke mistakenly using wildfire preparedness funds to pay for one of the secretary’s unrelated helicopter tours. And the story about his previously undisclosed shares in a gun company.
There have also been questions about Zinke’s wife saddling department staffers with extra work. In February, two scientists resigned from Interior after Zinke demanded confidential energy data. Around the same time, a pair of casino-owning American Indian tribes accused Zinke “of illegally blocking their plans to expand operations in Connecticut – a delay that stands to benefit politically connected gambling giant MGM Resorts International.”
There’s also that weird flag story. And the story about his unusually expensive door. And questions about undisclosed meetings on his official calendar. And for all I know, there are other stories related to Zinke that haven’t crossed my radar.
In a normal administration, it’s hard to imagine him remaining in a president’s cabinet facing a list of controversies this long. Donald Trump’s tolerance for suspected scandals, however, is not normal.