Zinke Leaves Trump Administration Under Cloud of Ethics Violations

Gage Skidmore, via Wikimedia Commons

On December 15, President Trump announced via Twitter that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke will leave office by the end of 2018. The departure comes in the midst of several investigations into Zinke’s questionable conduct and business dealings while serving as Secretary. Campaign Legal Center (CLC) has been working to hold Zinke accountable throughout his tenure.

Zinke is only the latest in a string of Trump Administration cabinet officials to resign amid a flurry of ethics investigations. Former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt resigned after appearing to violate several ethics norms and rules, including misusing a subordinate’s time and misusing his official position to secure business opportunities for his wife. Former Department of Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin resigned after an inspector general investigation revealed a slew of ethics violations related to a government-funded London trip.

“There are these laws and these ethical norms that are being blown to bits by these cabinet secretaries,” stated CLC’s Delaney Marsco, legal counsel, ethics, in a New York Times article.

Zinke’s troubles may not end with his resignation. At least one of the investigations into his business dealings, likely surrounding Zinke’s involvement in a Halliburton-linked land deal in Montana, has been referred to the Department of Justice.

Other misconduct—like his two-night stay at the Four Seasons in Dallas to rub elbows with NRA members and political donors, emblematic of his persistent blurring of political activity and official business—might not warrant a criminal referral – but reveals a pattern of unethical behavior and blatant disregard for the public’s trust.

Zinke’s resignation is important as CLC and watchdog groups work to protect our democracy by holding public servants accountable. When public servants break public trust it undermines the public’s faith in government, shatters public confidence, and democracy breaks down.

Here are some of the ways CLC has worked to hold Zinke accountable:

  • February 23, 2018: CLC filed a complaint with the Interior Inspector General requesting an investigation into, among other things, a potential criminal violation of the conflict of interest law by assisting a government contractor from his hometown in which he owned stock, and his mixing of official and political business to attend an NRA event.
  • February 22, 2018: CLC filed a complaint with the FEC and Virgin Islands authorities regarding the failure of the Virgin Islands GOP to disclose the identity of the individuals who paid thousands of dollars to access Zinke.
  • October 30, 2017: CLC filed a complaint with the FEC alleging Zinke’s campaign committee, Zinke for Congress, misused campaign funds for the personal benefit of his friends and family, failed to report thousands of dollars in contributions received, and misreported thousands more in spending.
  • October 6, 2017: CLC filed a complaint with the U.S. Office of Special Counsel alleging that Zinke violated the Hatch Act by soliciting contributions at a fundraiser for the Virgin Islands GOP.
Delaney is the Director, Ethics at CLC.