Trump confirms Zinke out at Interior

The latest hot rumor (well… more than just a rumor since the President confirmed it) in White House personnel shakeups is that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will be submitting his resignation this week. While the two-year mark in any administration is a time when cabinet members tend to pack it in if they don’t plan to stay for a full term, there were signs that this might be coming for the past several months. There’s been an obvious and concerted effort to gin up any sort of “scandals” they could find surrounding Zinke, much the same as with other Trump cabinet picks, in the hopes of tarnishing the administration by association. It looks like Zinke has had enough of it. (Bloomberg)

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke has notified the White House that he intends to step down amid federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, according to three people familiar with the matter.

Zinke’s decision, expected to be announced on Wednesday, comes as Democrats, who’ve vowed to grill the him over his conduct, are about to take control of the House of Representatives, raising the prospect of heightened oversight — and a crush of legal bills from defending himself. Concern about all the scrutiny and legal costs on the horizon were factors in Zinke’s decision to quit, said the people, who asked not to be identified to discuss it.

The impending departure also emerges as President Donald Trump grapples with other changes to his Cabinet that underscore the challenges of filling vacancies in a tumultuous administration. On Friday, the president announced that budget director Mick Mulvaney would take over as chief of staff, replacing John Kelly, whose ouster on Dec. 8 touched off a roller-coaster search to fill the key White House post.

This probably won’t make for much of a change in public policy if Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt takes over as Acting Secretary (as many suspect he will). He’s also been a vocal proponent of the same agenda that Zinke has pushed on behalf of the President. And if it looks like confirming anyone else will be too much of a problem, he could fill out the rest of Trump’s first term as Acting Secretary.

So what about all of these scandals that supposedly drove Zinke out? Most of them revolve around allegations of “improper political work.” The short translation of that term is any policy decision which might conceivably have seemed to be of benefit to some other Republican. One example is the exemption given to Florida for new offshore drilling leases, with the argument being that it might have aided the popularity of Rick Scott during his Senate bid. Less often mentioned is the general unpopularity of such drilling in Florida and the poor quality of the oil fields there.

Zinke’s recommendations for scaling back two massive “national monuments” are also apparently considered a scandal. This story was told despite the fact the final decision was the President’s and any reading of the federal law covering the creation of such monuments shows that the law is on Trump’s side. By surveying the lands and submitting his findings, Zinke was doing what’s known as “his job” but that’s apparently a sin if you don’t like the results.

But the big ticket “scandal” involved a “land deal” in Whitefish, Montana. If you’re thinking of Zinke and hearing that phrase you’d probably assume he was selling off drilling rights out west and pocketing the profits, right? In reality, it involved property owned by a charitable foundation Zinke’s wife runs being used for a parking lot by the chairman of Haliburton for some project they’re working on. Yes… a parking lot. That’s the “scandal.”

The Democrats and their allies in the press have been trying to hound Zinke out of office with a bunch of ginned up stories, much the same way they did with Scott Pruitt. Some of the complaints, such as taxpayer-funded costs for travel, might have been more palatable if the press had shown so much as a scintilla of the same level of interest in the similar expenses of Democratic administrations (which frequently exceeded the ones under discussion now). Of course, they did not.

I’ll just thank Zinke for his service, both in the military and serving this administration, and wish him the best in the future. It was a literally thankless job under the current political and media environment.