New details about the surprise resignation of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke emerged today as The Associated Press got hold of a copy of his resignation letter this afternoon.
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While the letter was dated today, the AP was unable to confirm whether the letter was delivered before or after President Trump tweeted the news of Zinke’s resignation early this morning.
The beleaguered Interior Secretary blamed his impending departure on “vicious and politically motivated attacks” against him that had “created an unfortunate distraction” in fulfilling his agency’s mission, which in his eyes apparently consisted of selling off mineral and energy resource exploitation rights to previously protected federal lands to the highest bidders among the eager private corporations anxiously awaiting the payback for their support of toadying Republican candidates.
Zinke tried to slough off the multiple allegations of corruption during his tenure in the cabinet by calling the accusations against him “meritless and false claims” and, in an unironically hilarious statement for a member of the Trump administration, saying that “to some, truth no longer matters.”
Democratic leaders in Congress were happy to see Zinke leave the cabinet despite being deprived of an opportunity to subpoena yet another Trump official to testify about the serious allegations of corruption against them while still in office. Senate Minority Leader Charles Schumer (D-NY) echoed the sentiments of the rest of his party in his tweet reacting to the news of Zinke’s 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.
The swamp cabinet will be a little less foul without him.
— Chuck Schumer (@SenSchumer) December 15, 2018
In the House of Representatives, presumed incoming Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi called the abdicating Interior Secretary “a shameless handmaiden for the special interests” and declared that Zinke’s “staggering ethical abuses have delivered a serious and lasting blow to America’s public lands, environment, clean air, and clean water.”
Despite Zinke’s resignation, he will still be subject to questioning by the new Democrat-controlled House oversight committees once the new Congress is sworn in in January.
According to the AP:
“Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, had warned that after Democrats took control of the House they intended to call Zinke to testify on his ethics issues.”
“Grijalva spokesman Adam Sarvana said Saturday that committee leaders still intended to ask for Zinke’s testimony. “It’s safe to say that Citizen Zinke may be leaving, but real oversight of former Secretary Zinke has not even started,” Sarvana said in an email.”
Environmental groups also responded to Zinke’s resignation with a mixture of glee at his downfall but a realistic assessment that under the Trump administration his likely replacement as acting Secretary, Zinke deputy David Bernhardt, wouldn’t be any better at all.
“Zinke will go down as the worst Interior secretary in history,” said Kieran Suckling, executive director of the Center for Biological Diversity, in a statement released Saturday. “His slash-and-burn approach was absolutely destructive for public lands and wildlife. Allowing David Bernhardt to continue to call the shots will still be just as ugly. Different people, same appetite for greed and profit.”
Zinke’s lack of remorse or apology in his letter of resignation may come back to haunt him when he is called to testify in front of House investigators but will be even worse if the Justice Department indicts him on the charges referred to it by the Interior Department’s Inspector General recently.
One can only hope that the wheels of justice roll quickly in this case.
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Original reporting by Ellen Knickmeyer, Matthew Brown, and Jonathan Lemire at The Associated Press.