Another scandal-ridden member of Trump’s cabinet is resigning

Zinke has been the subject of at least 15 investigations since taking office in 2017.
Zinke has been the subject of at least 15 investigations since taking office in 2017.
Image: AP Photo/Evan Vucci
We may earn a commission from links on this page.

Ryan Zinke, US president Donald Trump’s secretary of the interior, will resign from office by the end of the year, according to multiple press reports and a tweet from the president. Zinke reportedly handed in his resignation on Saturday.

Zinke has been tied to a litany of scandals; at least 15 investigations have been opened on his conduct in office. Some of the investigations already have been closed, including one due to scant recordkeeping by the Interior Department, which prevented an inquiry into whether it violated federal law by re-assigning dozens of employees. Another investigation, into Zinke’s decision to block a $1 million coal mining study, was hamstrung after the department simply “declined to explain its reasoning,” the New York Times reported.

The most serious of the open allegations against him involves a private land deal in Whitefish, Montana, between a foundation he started and a Halliburton executive who potentially stood to gain from Zinke’s power over oil and gas leases on public lands. Democrats who called for the investigation suggested the deal might violate federal conflict of interest laws.

Zinke’s time in office has been dominated by his desire to make the US “the strongest energy superpower this world has ever known,” primarily by opening more federal land to oil and gas drilling—virtually everywhere except his home state of Montana. He has proposed to open more than 90% of the US outer continental shelf waters to drilling, and moved to shrink several national monuments, where energy exploration is historically prohibited.

These are just some of the other scandals that have plagued Zinke’s tenure as interior secretary.

  • Private jet to talk to a hockey team: On June 26, 2017, Zinke chartered a private jet costing taxpayers $12,375, after a speech to the Las Vegas National Hockey League team, which is owned by a former campaign contributor. The Interior Department’s inspector general concluded the expense “could have been avoided.”
  • Excluding Florida from massive offshore oil proposal: Days after Zinke proposed to open more than 90% of the waters of the US outer continental shelf to drilling, he yanked Florida from the plan after speaking with Republican governor Rick Scott. Records obtained by Politico showed the deal was part of an orchestrated plot to bolster Scott’s campaign for US senator against Democratic incumbent Bill Nelson, who ultimately lost the election. Investigators are looking into whether this is a violation of the Hatch Act, which prohibits federal employees from using their offices to influence elections.
  • Blocking a casino from opening in Connecticut: Zinke is being investigated for blocking two Indian tribes in Connecticut from opening a casino—after MGM Resorts International, the casino’s competitor, lobbied Zinke to block it. MGM had recently opened a casino 12 miles from the tribe’s new venture and would therefore have faced competition. The decision was in conflict with the advice of Zinke’s own employees at the Interior Department’s Bureau of Indian Affairs. The Mashantucket Pequot and Mohegan tribes, joined by the state of Connecticut, are suing Zinke over the decision, calling it “arbitrary and capricious.”

Two weeks ago, Zinke responded to US congressman Raul Grijalva’s call for him to resign by calling Grijalva, a Democrat from Arizona, “drunken and hostile.”

Trump indicated in a tweet that his pick for Zinke’s successor will be announced next week.