Zinke to step down after tumultuous run

This story has been updated.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke plans to step down at the end of the month after facing a string of investigations surrounding spending and management.

President Trump today announced Zinke's planned departure on Twitter and praised his past two years of service. He also said Zinke's successor would be named next week.

"Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation.......," the president tweeted.


".......The Trump Administration will be announcing the new Secretary of the Interior next week."

Zinke, a self-styled "Teddy Roosevelt" Republican with the dash of a former Navy special operator, is leaving following a sometimes rocky tenure marked by big plans, some quiet victories and a storm of ethics complaints (Greenwire, Oct. 30).

He's been dogged by multiple Office of Inspector General investigations and, if he had stayed, faced the prospect of aggressive oversight and frustrated ambitions next year due to newly empowered House Democrats.

Zinke alluded to some of these problems in a statement released after the president made his announcement.

"It is a great honor to serve the American people as their Interior Secretary. I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we've accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations. It is better for the President and Interior to focus on accomplishments rather than fictitious allegations," Zinke said in a statement.

A 57-year-old former one-term House member, Zinke has displayed his larger ambitions as prominently as the SEAL pins that always adorn his lapels, with some speculators envisioning a 2020 gubernatorial run in his home state of Montana.

Some Interior initiatives taken under Zinke's watch will persist without him. His legacy includes several shrunken national monuments out West, some streamlining of federal energy permits, increased hunting on public lands and a start on Endangered Species Act regulatory revisions.

The future of Zinke's plan for reorganizing the department and shifting personnel out of Interior's D.C. headquarters, though, remains sketchy. The Democrats who will take control of the House in January are skeptical of the scheme, and few other officials may want to spend political capital on it.

Zinke's own performance, moreover, appeared to fall short of the career and reputational expectations that he held when the Senate confirmed him on a bipartisan 68-31 vote on March 1, 2017.

"In order to have great deeds and accomplish great things, both sides have to work together," Zinke declared at his confirmation hearing. "Higher purpose can only be achieved by both sides coming together for higher purpose."

Instead, when push came to shove, Zinke later lost the support of some lawmakers like Sen. Tom Udall (D-N.M.), who had voted for him, and of groups like Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, whose leaders endorsed his nomination and subsequently voiced their disappointment (Greenwire, Nov. 27, 2017).

Zinke has denounced the investigations against him as politically motivated. One complaint filed with the Office of Government Ethics, for instance, targeted him for tweeting a photo of his Make America Great Again socks.

Other complaints have been weightier, and their cumulative heat intensified the week before the election when several media outlets reported that Interior's IG had referred one unspecified case to the Justice Department (Greenwire, Oct. 31).

One ongoing investigation is an inquiry into Zinke's purported business activities in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont., including his possible role in a real estate deal backed by Halliburton Co. Chairman David Lesar.

The issue involves a proposed commercial development in Whitefish located near two parcels of land, one of which Zinke owns and the other of which is owned by the Great Northern Veterans Peace Park Foundation, established by Zinke in 2007.

Another IG investigation is delving into alleged political interference in a Connecticut tribal casino matter.


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