Donald Trump’s cabinet may be a rogues’ gallery, but Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stands out as the most scandal-plagued of them all. 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 is even longer.
One of Zinke’s scandals was recently referred to the Justice Department for a possible criminal investigation. We don’t know which of the scandals, but there are apparently many to choose from.
It’s against this backdrop that Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) wrote an op-ed for USA Today calling for the Interior secretary to step down. “I take no pleasure in calling for this step, and I have resisted it even as questions have grown about Mr. Zinke’s ethical and managerial failings. Unfortunately, his conduct in office and President Donald Trump’s neglect in setting ethical standards for his own cabinet have made it unavoidable.”
The good news is, Zinke issued a response. The bad news is, the response was unusually aggressive and personal.
“It’s hard for [Grijalva] to think straight from the bottom of the bottle. This is coming from a man used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior. He should resign and pay back the taxpayer for the hush money and the tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spend investigating unfounded allegations.”
In case this isn’t painfully obvious, it’s extraordinarily rare for a sitting cabinet secretary to lash out against a sitting member of Congress with a personal attack.
Politico noted that “in most eras,” this would be considered “a stunning breach of decorum.”
And while that’s certainly true, it might have an even broader significance once the House majority switches from Republican to Democratic hands.
On Capitol Hill, the 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 a congressman by the name of Raul Grijalva.
In other words, the top member of Congress with oversight over Zinke’s agency wants the secretary to resign, and Zinke fired back by accusing the congressman of being an alcoholic – who should also resign.
Either the Interior secretary isn’t planning to stick around much longer, or he should start preparing for a rather difficult oversight experience in the very near future.
Postscript: To the extent that it matters, Grijalva has had a drinking problem, which the Arizona Democrat says he’s overcome. The Washington Post took a closer look at the details in Zinke’s statement.