Donald Trump said yesterday that his interior secretary will be leaving soon – the latest in a series of high-profile departures from an administration beset by turnover and alleged ethical failings.
“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,” Trump wrote on Twitter, highlighting the fact that Zinke’s tenure was substantially longer than that of some other former top officials in the administration.
“Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation,” the president said, adding that a replacement would be announced next week.
The interior secretary is responsible for overseeing conservation and mineral extraction on public land that, if stitched together, would be larger than Mexico.
However, Zinke has been the target of a number of ethics investigations, making him a lightning rod for complaints from Democrats, who expressed no regrets over his impending departure.
“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,” said Senate minority leader Chuck Schumer. “The swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him.”
Zinke, a former Montana congressman, was the subject of various investigations linked to his real estate holdings in his home state and his actions in office.
Along with Trump’s first environmental protection chief Scott Pruitt – who resigned in July amid a series of scandals over ethical lapses and lavish spending – Zinke helped spearhead a presidential push to sharply relax environmental regulations and expand energy production.
The Zinke announcement came just a week after another impending high-profile departure – that of Trump’s chief of staff John Kelly – was made public.
Trump on Friday tapped Mick Mulvaney – the director of the Office of Management and Budget – to serve as chief of staff on an acting basis, setting him up to be the third person to hold the post since the president took office in early 2017 (see report below).
A series of other top officials have left the Trump White House, including a secretary of state, two national security advisers, and an attorney general, as well as Pruitt.
Zinke is one of several members of Trump’s cabinet to come under fire over expenditures, including reports that his department was spending nearly $139,000 to upgrade three sets of double doors in his office – a cost that Zinke later said he had negotiated down to $75,000.
He had been the subject of some 15 investigations, including one for allowing his wife to ride in government vehicles and another for taking a security detail with him on a vacation trip to Turkey, according to the Washington Post.
He has also faced criticism over costly US Park Police helicopter flights last year that allowed him to return to Washington for a horseback ride with Vice-President Mike Pence, and several other flights on non-commercial aircraft.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL who wore cowboy boots to the office and carried himself with a Western swagger, seemed to emulate Trump when under fire, lashing back rather than retreating.
Last month, when a Democratic congressman said it was time for new leadership at the Interior Department, Zinke suggested in a tweet that his critic had a drinking problem.
“It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” he wrote, a comment that many in Washington thought crossed a line.
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