IE 11 is not supported. For an optimal experience visit our site on another browser.

Former Trump cabinet secretary eyes campaign, despite scandals

The fact that Ryan Zinke is planning another campaign is emblematic of a larger truth: accountability is a thing of the past in Republican politics.
Image: Ryan Zinke
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke outside the White House on Aug. 16, 2018.Pablo Martinez Monsivais / AP

The Census Bureau offered some good news to several states this week, announcing that six states will see their congressional delegations grow thanks to increased populations. One of the winners was Montana, which will soon have two seats in the U.S. House, instead of one.

And that, evidently, has given one Montana Republican a big idea. Roll Call reported:

Former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke formed a committee Thursday to raise money to run for a House seat in Montana that will be created based on new census data released this week. Zinke won two terms representing the state's current at-large district before leaving to join the Trump administration in 2017.

Oh my.

Donald Trump's cabinet featured a staggering number of scandal-plagued secretaries, several of whom were referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal charges, so it's understandable if some responded to yesterday's news by asking, "Which one was Ryan Zinke?"

Arguably no cabinet secretary from the Trump era was more controversial than the Republican secretary of the Interior. Roll Call's report noted that Zinke "came under at least 15 different investigations" before resigning, and that is not an exaggeration.

In Dec. 2018, the New York Times published a round-up of pending investigations into the Montana Republican, and it was a strikingly long list. Media Matters also put together a timeline of "the Interior secretary's questionable actions and controversies," and that list was even longer.

In fact, the New York Times reported upon his resignation:

He had become the subject of several federal investigations, one of which his department's top watchdog has referred to the Justice Department, a potential step toward a criminal investigation. The inquiries include an examination of a real estate deal involving Mr. Zinke's family and a development group backed by the Halliburton chairman, David J. Lesar. Mr. Zinke stood to benefit from the deal, while Mr. Lesar's oil services company stood to benefit from Mr. Zinke's decisions on fossil fuel production.

It was a Trump political appointee at the Justice Department who told prosecutors the case against Zinke wasn't strong enough. The Montana Republican has denied any wrongdoing -- in any of the many controversies from his tenure.

That said, we're talking about a political figure who faced "at least 15 different investigations," found it necessary to resign under a cloud of controversy, and was referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution. In the abstract, after developments like these, that political figure's future prospects are supposed to dim.

But in contemporary Republican politics, it doesn't seem to work out that way.

Missouri's Eric Greitens was accused of, among other things, blackmailing his former mistress following an encounter in which he taped her hands to pull-up rings in his basement. After resigning in disgrace, the Republican is now a U.S. Senate candidate.

New York's Vito Fossella saw his career derailed when the public learned that the Republican congressman had a secret second family, separate from his wife and kids in New York, following a DUI charge in Virginia. He's now eyeing a comeback, too.

But what makes Ryan Zinke's effort all the more notable is how recent his controversies are. He exited the Trump cabinet just two years ago. The fact that he's moving forward with a new congressional campaign is emblematic of a larger truth: accountability is a thing of the past in Republican politics.