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Trump's scandal-plagued former interior secretary is running for Congress

Ryan Zinke resigned his position as interior secretary in December 2019 amid numerous ethics investigations into his activities.

By Josh Israel - April 29, 2021
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Ryan Zinke

Less than three years after resigning from Donald Trump’s Cabinet in the face of ethics investigations, Ryan Zinke is seeking a comeback, filing on Thursday with the Federal Election Commission to run for Montana’s newly created 2nd Congressional District.

Zinke represented Montana’s sole at-large House district from 2015 until 2017. A few weeks into his second term, he resigned to become Donald Trump’s first secretary of the interior.

On Monday, the Census Bureau announced that due to population changes over the last decade, Montana will have a second congressional seat on the ballot in next year’s midterm elections. Although the state has not yet drawn district maps, Zinke’s FEC filing specifies “State is Montana in District: 02.”

Republican Rep. Matt Rosendale currently represents all of Montana.

Prior to his current job running a cryptocurrency company, Zinke oversaw the federal agency tasked with protecting and managing the United States’ natural resources and cultural heritage.

His term as interior secretary came to an abrupt halt in December 2019, when, according to the Washington Post, he resigned his post days before Trump was set to fire him.

The Interior Department Office of Inspector General had opened multiple ethical probes into Zinke. Among those was an investigation of alleged conflict of interest arising from the involvement of a foundation set up by Zinke and run by his wife in the development of land in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana, by a group funded by David Lesar.

Lesar is the chair of oil services giant Halliburton, which might have benefited from decisions on oil-drilling that would have been made by the Interior Department.

Zinke denied wrongdoing, but in October 2019, the Interior Department’s acting inspector general referred the probe to the Justice Department to determine whether a criminal investigation was appropriate.

According to the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, Zinke was the subject of 18 separate federal investigations during his first 17 months in Trump’s Cabinet.

In his resignation letter, Zinke claimed to have been the victim of “vicious and politically motivated attacks.”

He tweeted at the time, “I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations.”

Zinke spent much his time at the Department of the Interior pushing an anti-environmental agenda.

He rolled back Obama-era climate protections regulating fracking, limiting methane gas emissions, and ensuring environmental safety from offshore oil drilling. He massively expanded oil and gas leases on public lands. He called for massive budget cuts for his own agency. He pushed to shrink the size of America’s national monuments.

In October 2017, the Washington Post reported that he had ordered that the flag of the secretary of the interior be flown over the department’s headquarters whenever he was in the building and taken down when he wasn’t, a practice with origins in the Navy that wasn’t carried out by any other government officials.

A spokesperson for Zinke told the Post the flag-flying was “a major sign of transparency.” Retired Army Col. Steven Warren, who had run the Pentagon’s press operation, on the other hand, said, “Is he trying to send a message? Is he big on pomp and circumstance, or is this a case of ‘Look at me?'”

Published with permission of The American Independent Foundation.

 


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