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Interior Secretary claims to be a geologist, despite the evidence

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke loves to tell people he's a geologist. That's not quite true -- and it's hardly the only controversy he's facing right now.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as \"A Vision for American Energy Dominance\" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke delivers a speech billed as \"A Vision for American Energy Dominance\" at the Heritage Foundation on September 29, 2017 in Washington, D.C.

It's been challenging trying to keep up with all of the various controversies surrounding Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, but CNN uncovered a new one that's surprising, even for one of the most scandal-plagued members of Donald Trump's cabinet.

If you've heard Zinke speak on his work at Interior, you've probably heard him talk about being a geologist. He's made the boast dozens of times since joining the president's cabinet, including during congressional testimony while under oath, often as a way of bolstering the weight of his policy decisions. As the argument goes, Zinke must be right about everything from climate change to endangered species to oil drilling -- because he's a geologist.

But what if he's used the label about his professional background in a misleading way?

Zinke, however, has never held a job as a geologist. In his autobiography, Zinke wrote that he majored in geology at the University of Oregon, which he attended on a football scholarship, and chose his major at random."I studied geology as a result of closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog, and I never looked back. I am just glad I did not find electronics," he wrote, adding that he was focused and a good student, and earned an outstanding academic achievement award his senior year.

After getting his degree 34 years ago, Zinke considered a career in geology, but instead chose a military path before entering politics.

Or put another way, despite his frequent claims to being a geologist, Zinke doesn't appear to have ever done any real work in geology, at least not since randomly choosing to be a geology major a few decades ago as an undergraduate.

This is a pretty remarkable thing for a cabinet secretary to make dubious claims about, but it's not the only embarrassing story Zinke is dealing with right now.

CNN also took a closer look yesterday, for example, at Zinke's former radio show, where he apparently kicked around bizarre conspiracy theories, including questions about Barack Obama's birth certificate.

That report ran the same day as the HuffPost's reporting on Zinke's department relying on "a top energy industry lobbyist to help draft a list of potential regulatory rollbacks."

Also yesterday, Politico reported 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, the department's watchdog reported Monday -- including the fact that one of his biggest campaign donors owned the team. The report by Interior's inspector general also raised questions about whether taxpayers should have been on the hook for a $12,000 charter flight that Zinke took after the speech from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana."

Note, all of these Zinke-related controversies have unfolded just this week -- and it's only Tuesday.

They follow a report from two weeks ago 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 this month. As we discussed last month, 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 for all I know, there are other stories related to Zinke that haven’t crossed my radar.

I realize this administration has its share of controversial cabinet secretaries, but it’d be tough to top the sheer volume of questions surrounding the Interior secretary.