Ryan Zinke

ANTHONY PLASCENCIA/THE STAR

Trump: Interior Secretary Zinke Leaving Administration

December 15, 2018 - 10:07 am
Categories: 

WASHINGTON (AP) — Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, will be leaving the administration at year's end, Trump said Saturday. In his resignation letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Zinke said "vicious and politically motivated attacks" against him had "created an unfortunate distraction" in fulfilling the agency's mission.

Trump, in tweeting Zinke's departure, said the former Montana congressman "accomplished much during his tenure" and that a replacement would be announced next week. The Cabinet post requires Senate confirmation.

The 57-year-old is leaving weeks before Democrats take control of the House, a shift in power that promises to sharpen the probes into his conduct. His departure comes amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in office facing increased legal exposure due to intensifying investigations into his campaign, business, foundation and administration.

Zinke's resignation letter, obtained from a Zinke aide on Saturday, cites what he calls "meritless and false claims" and says that "to some, truth no longer matters." It was not clear whether Zinke had already submitted the letter when Trump tweeted.

Zinke played a leading part in Trump's efforts to roll back federal environmental regulations and promote domestic energy development. He drew attention from his first day on the job, when he mounted a roan gelding to ride across Washington's National Mall to the Department of Interior.

Zinke had remained an ardent promoter of both missions, and his own macho image, despite growing talk that he had lost Trump's favor. On Tuesday, Zinke appeared on stage at an Environmental Protection Agency ceremony for a rollback on water regulations. Mentioning his background as a Navy SEAL at least twice, he led the audience in a round of applause for the U.S. oil and gas industry.

Trump never established a deep personal connection with Zinke but appreciated how he stood tall against criticisms from environmental groups as he worked to roll back protections. But the White House concluded in recent weeks that Zinke was likely the Cabinet member most vulnerable to investigations led by newly empowered Democrats in Congress, according to an administration official not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters who spoke on condition of anonymity.

His tenure was temporarily extended as Interior helped with the response to California wildfires and the West Wing was consumed with speculation over the future of chief of staff John Kelly. But White House officials pressured him to resign, the official said, which he did after his final public appearance at his department's Christmas party on Thursday night.

As interior secretary, Zinke pushed to develop oil, natural gas and coal beneath public lands in line with the administration's business-friendly aims. But he has been dogged by ethics probes, including one centered on a Montana land deal involving a foundation he created and the chairman of an energy services company that does business with the Interior Department.