A few weeks ago, Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) reflected on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s many scandals and made the case that it was time for the scandal-plagued cabinet member to step down. Zinke responded in an unusually personal way, issuing a statement that began, “It’s hard for [Grijalva] to think straight from the bottom of the bottle.”
It was obviously a “stunning breach of decorum,” but it was also part of an incomprehensible strategy: the U.S. House panel that has direct oversight over the Department of the Interior is the Natural Resources Committee. And in about a month, the Natural Resources Committee will be chaired by Raul Grijalva.
In other words, the top member of Congress with oversight over Zinke’s agency wanted the secretary to resign, and Zinke fired back by accusing the congressman of being an alcoholic. I suggested at the time that the developments hinted that the Interior secretary wasn’t planning to stick around much longer. Sure enough, the Republican is exiting stage right.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will leave his job in the administration at the end of the year, President Donald Trump announced in a tweet on Saturday morning.
The president said in a follow-up tweet that the White House would announce a replacement next week. Trump chose Zinke in December 2016 to serve in the cabinet-level position.
According to the Washington Post, Zinke’s final public appearance was at a holiday party last week, which he said he wanted to attend before exiting the president’s cabinet. The article added, “He invited lobbyists and conservative activists to his executive suite, where he posed for photos in front of a large stuffed polar bear wearing a Santa cap, according to an attendee.”
With former EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt already having resigned several months ago, Zinke was Trump’s most scandal-plagued cabinet official.
The New York Times recently published a round-up of pending investigations into the Montana Republican, and it wasn’t a short list. Media Matters, meanwhile, put together a timeline of “the Interior secretary’s questionable actions and controversies,” and that list was even longer.
Making matters slightly worse, one of Zinke’s scandals was recently referred to the Justice Department for a possible criminal investigation. It’s not yet clear whether his resignation will affect that inquiry, or whether Zinke may yet face a possible criminal indictment.
Either way, it’s worth taking a moment to note that the Montana Republican may very well be wondering about the alternate path that was available to him, but he didn’t take. As the Trump presidency got underway nearly two years ago, rumor had it that Zinke was gearing up to take on Sen. Jon Tester (D) in Montana in the 2018 midterms – a race where the Republican likely would’ve been favored.
Instead, Donald Trump Jr. insisted that Zinke become Interior secretary. Now, the Montanan is resigning amidst multiple scandals, while Tester recently earned another six years in the Senate.
Postscript: With Zinke out, Interior will now be run, at least for a while, by David Bernhardt, a former oil lobbyist.