White House officials fear Zinke is an easy target for Democrats

By Juliet Eilperin, Lisa Rein and Josh Dawsey | Washington Post

White House officials have identified Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke as the Cabinet member most vulnerable to a congressional probe under a Democratic majority in January, putting the colorful secretary closer into the president’s crosshairs, according to two senior administration officials briefed on the matter.

The new assessment comes as President Donald Trump is weighing whether to dismiss Zinke, according to the officials, who asked for anonymity to discuss personnel matters. Trump has told aides he will make a decision next week after he returns from Paris, they said.

At the White House on Friday, he gave Zinke a tepid vote of confidence. Asked if he would fire Zinke, the president said, “No,” but quickly added,”I’m going to look into any complaints.”

Zinke’s personal conduct and management decisions have spurred at least 15 investigations, nine of which have been closed. The most serious one, which Interior’s acting inspector general referred to the Justice Department last month, focuses on whether the secretary used his office for personal gain in connection with a land deal he forged in Whitefish, Mont., with Halliburton Chairman David Lesar and other investors.

Recently released public records show that Zinke has taken an unconventional approach to his job at times, including arranging meetings with multiple billionaires and taking 66 days of personal leave during his first year and-a-half on the job.

Zinke has sought to keep his job, telling White House officials that he did nothing wrong and urging them to postpone any decision.

The president is mainly focused on the federal investigation of Zinke’s role in the Montana land deal, the officials said, though White House aides are assessing several aspects of his job performance.

Officials have begun studying which Cabinet officials are most likely to face serious investigations on Capitol Hill, moreover, and the former Navy SEAL and congressman ranks at the top of the list.

Trump has also voiced concern about Zinke’s conduct and has groused that it could become a problem for the president. Unlike former Environmental Protection Agency administrator Scott Pruitt, who stayed in office for months after allegations surfaced about his spending and management decisions, Zinke does not have the same kind of close relationship that Pruitt and Trump enjoyed.

House Democrats such as Rep. Raúl Grijalva of Arizona, who is slated to take the gavel of the House Natural Resources Committee next year, are already gearing up to grill Zinke on both his personal conduct and management decisions.

On Wednesday, Grijalva said he and his colleagues want the interior secretary to provide answers on several fronts. Last month, Interior’s acting inspector general, Mary Kendall, referred that inquiry, which is examining whether Zinke used his office for personal gain, to the Justice Department.

“This is our check and balance, our constitutional obligation and our jurisdiction,” Grijalva said. “Us exercising our oversight and accountability responsibilities is not asking for a war with the administration.”

New emails released this week to the Sierra Club under the Freedom of Information Act show that the secretary met a …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Politics


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