In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Zinke re­signs

Em­bat­tled Zinke faces many fed­eral and ethics probes

South Florida Sun-Sentinel (Sunday) - - Front Page - By Ellen Knick­meyer, Matthew Brown and Jonathan Lemire

He is leav­ing be­fore Democrats take con­trol of House, which could sharpen probes into his con­duct.

WASH­ING­TON — In­te­rior Sec­re­tary Ryan Zinke, fac­ing fed­eral in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his travel, po­lit­i­cal ac­tiv­ity and po­ten­tial con­flicts of in­ter­est, will leave the ad­min­is­tra­tion at year’s end, Trump said Satur­day.

In his res­ig­na­tion let­ter, Zinke said “vi­cious and po­lit­i­cally mo­ti­vated at­tacks” against him had “cre­ated an un­for­tu­nate dis­trac­tion” in ful­fill­ing the agency’s mis­sion.

Trump, in tweet­ing Zinke’s de­par­ture, said the for­mer Mon­tana con­gress­man “ac­com­plished much dur­ing his ten­ure” and that a re­place­ment would be an­nounced this week. The Cab­i­net post re­quires Se­nate con­fir­ma­tion.

Zinke is leav­ing weeks be­fore Democrats take con­trol of the House, a shift in power that prom­ises to sharpen the probes into his con­duct.

His de­par­ture comes amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in of­fice fac­ing in­creased le­gal ex­po­sure due to in­ten­si­fy­ing in­ves­ti­ga­tions into his cam­paign, busi­ness, foun­da­tion and ad­min­is­tra­tion.

Zinke’s res­ig­na­tion let­ter, ob­tained from a Zinke aide Satur­day, cites what he calls “mer­it­less and false claims” and says that “to some, truth no longer mat­ters.”

The let­ter, dated Satur­day, said Zinke’s last day would be Jan. 2. It was not clear whether Zinke had al­ready sub­mit­ted the let­ter when Trump tweeted.

Zinke, 57, played a lead­ing part in Trump’s ef­forts to roll back fed­eral en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions and pro­mote do­mes­tic en­ergy de­vel­op­ment. He drew at­ten­tion from his first day on the job, when he mounted a roan geld­ing to ride across Wash­ing­ton’s Na­tional Mall to the De­part­ment of In­te­rior.

Trump never es­tab­lished a deep per­sonal con­nec­tion with Zinke but ap­pre­ci­ated how he stood tall against crit­i­cisms from en­vi­ron­men­tal groups as he worked to roll back pro­tec­tions.

But the White House con­cluded in re­cent weeks that Zinke was likely the Cab­i­net mem­ber most vul­ner­a­ble to in­ves­ti­ga­tions led by newly em­pow­ered Democrats in Congress, ac­cord­ing to an ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cial not au­tho­rized to pub­licly dis­cuss per­son­nel mat­ters who spoke on con­di­tion of anonymity.

His ten­ure was tem­po­rar­ily ex­tended as In­te­rior helped with the re­sponse to Cal­i­for­nia wild­fires and the West Wing was con­sumed with spec­u­la­tion over the re­place­ment of chief of staff John Kelly.

But White House of­fi­cials pres­sured him to re­sign, the of­fi­cial said, which he did after his fi­nal pub­lic ap­pear­ance at his de­part­ment’s Christ­mas party on Thurs­day night.

As in­te­rior sec­re­tary, Zinke pushed to de­velop oil, nat­u­ral gas and coal be­neath pub­lic lands in line with the ad­min­is­tra­tion’s busi­ness-friendly aims.

But he has been dogged

by ethics probes, in­clud­ing one cen­tered on a Mon­tana land deal in­volv­ing a foun­da­tion he cre­ated and the chair­man of an en­ergy ser­vices com­pany, Hal­libur­ton, that does busi­ness with the In­te­rior De­part­ment.

In­ves­ti­ga­tors also are re­view­ing Zinke’s de­ci­sion to block two tribes from open­ing a casino in Con­necti­cut and his re­draw­ing of bound­aries to shrink a Utah na­tional mon­u­ment. Zinke has de­nied wrong­do­ing.

The As­so­ci­ated Press re­ported last month that the de­part­ment’s in­ter­nal watch­dog had re­ferred an in­ves­ti­ga­tion of Zinke to the Jus­tice De­part­ment.

Zinke’s trav­els with his

wife, Lola Zinke, also had come un­der scru­tiny.

In­te­rior’s in­spec­tor gen­eral’s of­fice said Zinke al­lowed his wife to ride in govern­ment ve­hi­cles with him de­spite a de­part­ment pol­icy that bars non­govern­ment of­fi­cials from do­ing so.

Trump told re­porters this fall he was eval­u­at­ing Zinke’s fu­ture in the ad­min­is­tra­tion in light of the al­le­ga­tions and of­fered a luke­warm vote of con­fi­dence. Zinke in Novem­ber de­nied he al­ready was hunt­ing for his next job.

“I en­joy work­ing for the pres­i­dent,” he told a Mon­tana ra­dio sta­tion. “Now, if you do your job, he sup­ports you.”

Zinke out­lasted EPA chief Scott Pruitt, an­other en­thu­si­as­tic ad­vo­cate of Trump’s busi­ness-friendly way of gov­ern­ing who re­signed in July amid ethics scan­dals.

Demo­cratic lead­ers in Congress were scathing in re­sponse to the news that Zinke was leav­ing.

“Ryan Zinke was one of the most toxic mem­bers of the cab­i­net in the way he treated our en­vi­ron­ment, our pre­cious pub­lic lands, and the way he treated the govt like it was his per­sonal honey pot,” Se­nate Mi­nor­ity Leader Chuck Schumer tweeted Satur­day. “The swamp cab­i­net will be a lit­tle less foul with­out him.”

SHAWN THEW/GETTY

Sec­re­tary of the In­te­rior Ryan Zinke is leav­ing be­fore the Democrats take con­trol of the House, a shift in power that will sharpen the probes into his con­duct.

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