Dec 01 2018

To Lady Astor

I may be drunk, but tomorrow I shall be sober and you will still be ugly.

Zinke responds to ethics criticism by calling Democratic lawmaker a drunk

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Friday accused the House Natural Resources Committee’s top Democrat of “drunken” behavior and paying “hush money” after the Democrat called for the secretary to resign for his series of ethics scandals.

“It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke wrote on his official Interior Department Twitter account after Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) published an op-ed asking for Zinke’s resignation.

The remark, which in most eras would be considered a stunning breach of decorum for a sitting Cabinet member, is the latest in a string of comments by Zinke proclaiming his innocence or calling for investigations against his critics. He followed by making other unproven allegations against Grijalva, who is set to chair the Natural Resources Committee after Democrats take control of the chamber in January.

Grijalva responded in a statement: “The American people know who I’m here to serve, and they know in whose interests I’m acting. They don’t know the same about Secretary Zinke.”

He added on Twitter: “The allegations against Secretary Zinke are credible and serious. Instead of addressing the substantive issues raised in this morning’s op-ed, he’s resorting to personal attacks.”

Grijalva had pointed in his op-ed to the various ethical investigations into Zinke, including at least one that has been referred to the Justice Department. The Arizona Democrat promised his committee would continue investigating Zinke when the Democrats take power.

In his response to Grijalva, Zinke wrote: “This is coming from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior. He should resign and pay back the taxpayer for the hush money and the tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spend investigating unfounded allegations.”

Then again, Zinke has been known to enjoy the occasional beer himself — last year, he tweeted a picture of himself settling a beef with Senate Energy and Natural Resources Chairman Lisa Murkowski over a couple of Alaska brews.

Part of one investigation into Zinke also centers on his years-long plan to open a microbrewery in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont. Whitefish residents told POLITICO earlier this year Zinke was a regular sight at the Bulldog Saloon, the Spotted Bear Spirits distillery and The Lodge at Whitefish Lake for drinks. One resident told POLITICO: “I’ve seen him at breweries all the time. … I know he’s super into craft beer.“

Zinke at the time sent a text message to POLITICO about the investigation, saying, “At this point in my life, I am more interested in sampling hand crafted beers rather than making them.”

Meanwhile, at least one other Democrat took to Twitter on Friday morning to back up Grijalva’s call for Zinke’s resignation.

“Zinke has brought a culture of corruption and corporate favoritism to an agency tasked with caring for our public lands and resources,” New York Rep. Nydia Velázquez wrote. “The American people deserve better.”

House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi added: “We couldn’t have a clearer contrast with the values-based leadership of @RepRaulGrijalva to protect the planet for our children than @SecretaryZinke’s toxic, special interest agenda.”

Zinke has maintained that the investigations into him have shown no proof of wrongdoing, although he remains under a considerable cloud and is one of several Cabinet members believed likely to leave the Trump administration in coming months.

In potentially the most damaging probe into his conduct, the Interior Department’s inspector general has been looking into Zinke’s ties to a land deal in Whitefish that also involves the chairman of Halliburton, a major oil services company whose business Interior regulates — as POLITICO first reported in June.

The deal involves a foundation that Zinke formed and, according to Montana government records, was part of until earlier this year. Zinke has said the filing that listed him as a foundation director in 2018 was the fault of his lawyer.

Another probe by the inspector general involves Interior’s handling of an American Indian casino project in Connecticut that was opposed by gambling giant MGM Resorts International.

Zinke had sought to skirt or alter department policies to justify his taxpayer-funded trips with his wife. Earlier it found that he had not properly disclosed ties to donor Bill Foley, whom he used a charter flight to visit last year while on official business. An earlier investigation into alleged political threats against Murkowski was deemed inconclusive after investigators said Zinke did not cooperate.

Zinke has done a series of interviews in recent weeks to declare his innocence.

“You know what they all say?” Zinke said of the investigations on Fox News on Thursday night. “Ryan Zinke follows all the rules, all the regulations, all the procedures. This is politically motivated. In Montana we call it b.s.”

During the same interview, he called for an investigation into the Western Values Project, a Montana-based conservation group that has criticized his policies and behavior. The group’s executive director. Chris Saeger, hit back Friday.

“It’s patently obvious the secretary is in a panic and is trying to deflect attention away from serious allegations and concerns about his conduct,” Saeger said. “He should refocus his attention on the pending investigations into his unethical conduct and repairing his record on public lands.”

White House officials and sources close to Zinke have said he is expected to leave his position around the end of the year, and POLITICO has reported that he has even reached out to energy companies about possible employment after Interior. Zinke has denied that, telling media outlets that he still enjoys Trump’s support.

Hah, hah, hah. Stupid Twitter fight, right?

Not so much.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke must resign. His multiple scandals show he’s unfit to serve.
by Raúl M. Grijalva, USA Today
Nov. 30, 2018

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.

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.

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 to cut 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.

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.

Not just Trump.