Energy Secretary Zinke to Leave as Trump Reshapes Cabinet

Petr Svab
By Petr Svab
December 15, 2018Politics

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will be leaving his post at the end of the year, President Donald Trump said in a Dec. 15 tweet, marking the third high-profile cabinet departure announced since the midterm election.

“Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation,” Trump said. “The Trump administration will be announcing the new secretary of the Interior next week,” he added.

Zinke’s departure makes him the ninth Cabinet-level official to leave a post since Trump took office two years ago.

Others include Attorney General Jeff Sessions, who resigned on Nov. 7; Chief of Staff John Kelly, whose end of the year departure Trump announced on Dec. 8; United Nations Ambassador Nikki Haley, who announced on Oct. 9 that she will leave at the end of the year;

And the July leaving of Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt after a string of controversies, including his around-the-clock security detail and rental of a Washington apartment from the wife of an energy lobbyist.

Zinke, 51, was a first-term congressman from Montana when Trump chose him to lead the Interior. The former Navy Seal has run the Interior Department that employs more than 70,000 people and oversees federal lands—more than 20 percent of U.S. territory.

He has pursued Trump’s agenda to promote oil drilling and coal mining by expanding federal leasing, cutting royalty rates, and easing land protections, which earned him criticism from some environmental groups.

Trump did not give a reason for Zinke’s departure. However, the secretary was criticized by internal probes for the use of a security detail on a family vacation that cost taxpayers $25,000 as well as a $12,000 private flight he took after a meeting with a professional hockey team. The flight could have been avoided, the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General concluded.

In July, the inspector general began investigating a Montana land deal between a foundation Zinke set up and a development group backed by the chairman of oil service company Halliburton, which has business with the Interior Department.

In late October, that investigation was referred to the U.S. Justice Department for a possible criminal investigation, according to multiple media reports. The Department of Justice and the Interior Department have declined to comment.

The Interior’s watchdog is also examining whether the department purposefully redrew the boundaries of Utah’s Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument in a way that would benefit a state lawmaker who owns adjoining property.

Another probe targeted Zinke’s decision to block casinos proposed by two Connecticut Native American tribes. Critics allege he made that move, overruling his staff’s recommendation, shortly after he met with lobbyists for MGM Resorts International, which owns a new casino in the region.

Zinke has repeatedly denied any wrongdoing.

Trump has praised Zinke’s work, but said on Nov. 5 that he would look at the allegations.

Reuters contributed to this report.

From The Epoch Times

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