Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke must resign. His multiple scandals show he's unfit to serve.
Top Democrat on House Natural Resources Committee: Zinke is embroiled in ethics scandals and management failures. The least he can do is step down.
Ryan Zinke needs to resign immediately as Secretary of the Interior.
I take no pleasure in calling for this step, and I have resisted it even as questions have grown about Mr. Zinke’s ethical and managerial failings. Unfortunately, his conduct in office and President Donald Trump’s neglect in setting ethical standards for his own cabinet have made it unavoidable.
While the secretary continues to project confidence, questions have grown since the election about his future plans, and the White House reportedly fears that he would be unable to withstand scrutiny on Capitol Hill. Those fears are justified. Mr. Zinke has never even tried to offer an explanation for the sheer scope of his well-documented scandals.
This silence is insulting to the American people, and given the Nov. 6 election results it is unsustainable. Continuing in office as though nothing has changed only shows how little Mr. Zinke has learned over the past year and a half. He holds his job as a public trust, not as a stepping stone to his further personal ambitions. He has abused that trust and damaged the Interior Department in the process. The least he can do is step down and give his successor a chance to begin reversing that damage.
Zinke is embroiled in scandals and nepotism
It’s worth recounting how far that abuse went on Republicans’ watch. As has been widely reported, an Interior Department inspector general investigation of Mr. Zinke — one of at least 17 publicly known formal probes of either him or his department since he took office — was recently referred to the Justice Department.The referral centers on a land development project called 95 Karrow in Mr. Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont., involving David Lesar, the chairman of oil contractor Halliburton; his son John; and a Montana property developer named Casey Malmquist. The proposal would increase the value of land controlled by Mr. Zinke’s family.
I am the ranking member of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department, and earlier this year I asked my staff to look into this relationship. They discovered that Mr. Zinke met with all three men on Aug. 3, 2017, in his office, then led them on a private tour of the Lincoln Memorial. Mr. Zinke's public calendar does not include the attendees of the meeting or of the Lincoln tour — we know about this only because Mr. Zinke’s scheduler mentioned it to him in a personal email.
When three of us on the committee publicized that finding in our call for an investigation of 95 Karrow, we had no idea where the facts would lead. The important thing to us was that Mr. Zinke not be allowed to treat his office as a source of personal enrichment. The fact that the Justice Department was alerted is Mr. Zinke’s fault, not the fault of the media or anyone else his office has chosen to blame.
While a referral to Justice should not be taken lightly, the case against Mr. Zinke ultimately rests on much more fundamental grounds. Beyond his personal foibles, he has overseen the degradation of his department’s senior work force in the name of enforcing “loyalty” to himself and the Trump administration; announced his intention tocut thousands of permanent positions; prompted mass resignations from a nonpartisan National Park Service advisory board by refusing to meet with members; and tied his own employees and aides in knots to make himself and his wife more financially comfortable.
These are not the hallmarks of an effective leader. We would hardly look the other way at the mayor of a small town, let alone a cabinet secretary, who faced unending ethical questions, formal investigations and substantiated claims of attempted nepotism.
His policy direction at Interior is equally unfortunate. He has overseen the dumbing down of science, often with a partisan edge. On his watch, rather than advancing their agencies’ multiple-use mission for public lands, many on staff spend their days relaxing environmental and permitting standards for fossil fuel companies. They are forced to remove mentions of humans’ climate change impacts from official reports.
They are instructed, above all, to make President Donald Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda the sole guiding principle of environmental policy, regardless of the consequences. That's even though the giveaways it entails are so extreme that a spokeswoman for the pro-industry Western Energy Alliance once said they exceeded even her funders’ wildest expectations.
Zinke scrutiny will only intensify if I'm chairman
As ranking member, I have sent dozens of unanswered letters seeking information about Interior Department policies and Mr. Zinke’s conduct. Should I chair the committee in January, as I hope to do, those questions will only intensify as part of my and my colleagues’ legitimate oversight duties. If Mr. Zinke stays, stonewalling in the belief that a cabinet secretary answers only to Trump would be a mistake.
Such scrutiny will extend to his successor, who should not be encouraged by Mr. Zinke’s example. Doing whatever you like and then leaving office a half-step ahead of a formal investigation is not public service, especially if you end up working for an industry you formerly regulated. The election results were about clean government as much as any particular policy choice, and the next Interior secretary will be watched as closely as the one before.
The American people need an Interior Department focused on addressing climate change, enhancing public recreation, protecting endangered species and upholding the sovereign rights of Native American communities. These are not matters of personal preference — they are enshrined in law and supported by voters. The department needs someone accountable at the helm who believes in this mission.
Mr. Zinke is not that person. Federal agencies cannot function without credible leadership, and he offers none. He needs to resign.
Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva, D-Ariz., is ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources. Follow him on Twitter: @RepRaulGrijalva
By: Raúl M. Grijalva
Source: USA Today
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