Zinke Files #5: Fired By Trump, For the Right Reasons

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Donald J. Trump is not known as a man to cave to public pressure. For example, no cabinet member received as much pressure from the left to resign or be fired by the top executive as Betsy DeVos. Other advisors, like Kelly Anne Conway, earned extreme ire from the press, but POTUS kept her close. Trump made hiring and firing decisions based upon his personal judgment and not by pressure from the press (his draining of the swamp – particularly of military generals, Chiefs of Staff, and others indicate this). In this Zinke Files, we will examine the firing of Ryan Zinke as Interior Secretary, at the sole discretion of Donald J. Trump, for the right reasons.

While it is true that the left advocated for and celebrated the firing of Zinke (he would call it a “resignation”), this is true for every cabinet member or advisor to POTUS. Zinke is in no way special, and pressure to fire him was no greater than any other Trump Administration Official.

Coming from the Great American West, Zinke was a good choice – on paper – for Interior Secretary. He would not be replaced by a Democrat, it was taking him out of no office that would change party affiliation or make a difference in the U.S. Congress, and he would have seemed ideal to handle the Interior Department given the West’s vast resources.

Time would tell, however, that Zinke was far more interested in Ryan Zinke than in doing the job. And in Trump’s Administration, there was room for only one Alpha Dog. Zinke, soon, would have to go.

Zinke was investigated 18 times in only two years as Interior Secretary for misappropriation of funds, corrupt land deals, personal enrichment, and waste of taxpayer dollars. That’s 18 times out of 24 months, or in other words, 75% of the time he was Interior Secretary he was under investigation. As Trump faced his own (but fabricated) accusations ranging from Russian bot farms to the Ukraine (both uncovered nothing), Zinke’s investigations undercovered actual wrongdoing. Simply put, he was a liability to the President of the United States.

Heading up these investigations were not liberals but the Inspector Generalappointed by Trump’s Justice Department. He was investigated by Republicans – not by Democrats. According to Citizens for Ethics and their publication Crew, a story ran on 8/9/18 highlighting these multitudinous investigations. The publication reports…

“The Interior Department blocked a casino project proposed by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes after Zinke met with MGM lobbyists. Documents later revealed that by doing so, Interior had rejected recommendations from federalexperts. The Inspector General has opened an investigation.”

Why deny federal experts on MGM? Later Zinke Files reports will show his own competing business interests.

Other investigations into Zinke include (thanks to CREW for the research):

  1. Blocked casino project after meeting with lobbyists, Department of Interior Office of Inspector General (Inspector General)

The Interior Department blocked a casino project proposed by the Mohegan and Mashantucket Pequot tribes after Zinke met with MGM lobbyists. Documents later revealed that by doing so, the Interior had rejected recommendations from federal experts. The Inspector-General has opened an investigation.

2. Potential Hatch Act violation: Florida drilling announcement, Office of Special Counsel (OSC)

Zinke announced at a press conference with Florida governor Rick Scott that he would exempt Florida from the administration’s offshore drilling expansion, raising concerns that the action was politically motivated in light of Scott’s speculated Senate run. OSC confirmed it had opened a case file on the issue.

3. Censorship in a climate change report, Inspector General

A National Park Service report deleted any mentions of humans’ role in causing climate change shortly after Zinke testified to Congress he would not censor scientific reports. The Inspector-General opened an investigation (I personally wouldn’t gripe about this one).

4. Potential Hatch Act violation: Make America Great Again socks, OSC

Zinke tweeted a picture of himself wearing socks with President Trump’s Make America Great Again campaign slogan using his official Twitter account. OSC had previously instructed White House officials to avoid wearing or displaying the MAGA slogan while on duty. OSC confirmed that it had opened a case file into Zinke’s tweet.

5. Alleged retaliation against a whistleblower, OSC

Joel Clement, a policy expert at the Interior Department, claimed that he was reassigned to an unrelated job in the department after he spoke out publicly about the effects of climate change on Alaska Native communities. The Office of Special Counsel has opened an investigation.

6. Real estate and microbrewery deal with an oil services executive, Inspector General

The Inspector-General opened an investigation into Zinke’s involvement in a land deal with the executive of Halliburton, an oil services company directly affected by Interior Department policies. Halliburton is involved in a land deal with a foundation previously headed by Zinke and now headed by Zinke’s wife. The deal also includes building a microbrewery, a project Zinke has long been interested in. Montana Daily Gazette has already covered this story in Zinke Files #3.

7. Real estate and microbrewery deal with an oil services executive, Justice Department

The Justice Department is also investigating the Halliburton deal, likely after a referral from the Interior Inspector General.

CONGRESSIONAL INVESTIGATIONS INTO RYAN ZINKE

8. Spending $139,000 in taxpayer funds for office doors, House Oversight Committee

Following reports that the Interior Department would spend nearly $139,000 to replace three sets of doors, House Oversight Committee Chairman Trey Gowdy (R-SC) requested a briefing from the Interior Department on plans to replace the doors as well as documentation of the purchase.

Here, a Republican – and an awesome one, Trey Gowdy – thought the expense was absolutely absurd. The former Navy Seal was tired of constituents barging into his office and felt “unsafe.”

INVESTIGATIONS THAT IMPLICATE ZINKE IN MISCONDUCT

9. Zinke’s official government trips included his wife, Inspector General

The Inspector General found that Zinke violated Interior Department policies by having his wife travel with him in government vehicles. It also found that Zinke brought campaign contributors on an official boat tour and tried to sidestep department policies in order to have his wife’s trips covered by taxpayer funding

10. Alleged threat to Senator Lisa Murkowski (R-AK) during the healthcare debate, Inspector General

The day after Alaska’s Sen. Murkowski voted against beginning a debate on overturning the Affordable Care Act, Zinke called Sen. Murkowski and told her that her vote might have negative consequences on her state. The Interior Department’s Inspector General opened an investigation but was forced to drop the probe after Sen. Murkowski refused to be interviewed or provide a statement.

11. Alleged threat to Sen. Murkowski during the healthcare debate, Government Accountability Office

The Government Accountability Office opened its own probe into Zinke’s alleged threat following Sen. Murkowski’s healthcare vote, but it was also forced to close its probe, stating that the Interior Department refused to cooperate.

12. Staff reassignments that may have been politically motivated, Inspector General

In an unusual move, the Interior Department reassigned dozens of Senior Executive Service members, triggering concerns that the move was politically motivated. The Inspector General found that the Interior Department reassigned officials without clear criteria, and since there was no documented action plan, it could not determine whether the reassignments complied with the legal requirements.

13. Potentially improper chartered flights, Inspector General

Zinke faced scrutiny for three taxpayer-funded chartered flights, including a $12,000 flight on an oil executive’s plane. The Inspector General found that Zinke’s flights generally followed guidelines but that staffers did not provide complete information to ethics officials on his $12,000 flight.

14. Halted mining study, Inspector General

Zinke halted a $1 million study into the health impact of a mining technique used in Appalachia. The Inspector-General reported that when it asked the Interior Department to produce evidence to explain its decision, it was unable to do so.

INVESTIGATIONS THAT HAVE CLEARED ZINKE OF MISCONDUCT

Although Zinke has been cleared in a handful of Hatch Act investigations, as noted above, he remains under investigation by OSC for violating the law.

15. Potential Hatch Act violation: National Hockey League speech, OSC

The Office of Special Counsel investigated whether Ryan Zinke’s speech to the Vegas Golden Knights violated the Hatch Act, which forbids government officials from using their official positions to make political statements. The owner of the Knights was a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaign.

16. Potential Hatch Act violation: Virgin Islands political fundraiser, OSC

During a taxpayer-funded trip to the Virgin Islands, Zinke attended a political fundraiser for the local Republican party.

17. Potential Hatch Act violation: Seven additional trips that combined official and political activity, OSC

The Office of Special Counsel also found that Zinke did not violate the Hatch Act in another seven trips he took between March 2017 and October 2017.

18. Zinke’s involvement in a plan to shrink national monuments, Inspector General

The Inspector-General investigated Zinke’s involvement in a decision to shrink the Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in Utah. The Interior Department had proposed selling off 1,600 acres of public land that were part of the monument. The Inspector-General cleared Zinke of wrongdoing.* Good for him.

Clearly, some of these investigations were politically motivated by the left, included #18. But keep in mind, it was Trump’s Inspector-General that had to repeatedly deal with very real violations of the law that – whether committed by the left or the right – were wrong.

A general case has been made that Zinke acted outside the bounds of the law, with prejudice, whenever he felt like it.

How did Zinke handle these investigations? On CNN, dated 3/13/17, Zinke referred to questions about his unethical travel arrangements as “bullshit.” Sounds like a statesman to you, yes? Could you imagine Dr. Olszeweski responding in such a fashion? “Bullshit” is not an answer to a senatorial inquiry.

The respected Examiner publication posted on January 3, 2019…

“An office within the Justice Department that investigates corruption of elected and appointed public officials is looking into whether recently departed Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke lied to his department inspector general on multiple occasions, according to a report published Thursday. Zinke faced two inspector general probes for real estate ventures in Montana, a state he formerly represented in Congress, and a casino construction project Native American tribes had been fighting over in Connecticut, according to the Washington Post. The inspectors referred the issue to Justice officials within the department’s public integrity section in 2018 after suspecting Zinke had lied to them. If found to have lied to federal officials, he could face criminal charges. A Justice Department spokesperson told the Washington Examiner in an email Thursday it could not confirm or deny the existence of any investigation.” (“Justice Department investigating if Zinke lied to Interior inspectors general“)

Hardly a conservative publication, The Huffington Post discovered alarming trends with Zinke, but their reporting was factual. The concern for Montanans is what kind of official we want to send to Washington, especially if one is an easy target for Democrats. They reported in Justice Department Investigating Use of Ryan Zinke’s Email that it appeared to be nearly identical to the controversy revolving around “lock her up” Hillary Clinton. The paper reported…

“Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated federal law by using private email to conduct official government business.”

Notice, this controversy was after his firing from Trump, and the controversy will be waiting for him if he ever makes it again to Washington. There is no statute of limitations, and his security clearance will absolutely be compromised.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Court Judge Found Zinke Violated Federal Laws and Committed Serious Errors as Interior Secretary When He Reissued Grazing Permits to a Pair of Oregon Ranchers Convicted of arson for Torching Federal Lands Adjacent to Their Grazing Allotments. “”The Trump administration plans to appeal a federal judge’s ruling last year that blocked reinstatement of grazing permits to a pair of Oregon ranchers who had been convicted of arson for torching federal lands adjacent to their grazing allotments. The Department of justice’s notice of appeal filed late Friday sends the controversial case to the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. At issue is the December decision by Judge Michael Simon of theU.S. District Court for the District of Oregon that former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated federal laws and committed a” serious error” in ordering the issuance of the grazing permits to Dwight and StevenHammond Simon’s’s ruling sent the permits back to the Bureau of Land Management for more analysis and review. President Trump pardoned the father-and-son ranchers in 2018, and six months later, Zinke ordered BLM to reissue the grazing permits it had declined to renew following Hammonds’ 2012 arson convictions. A coalition of groups–Western Watersheds Project, the Center for Biological Diversity, and wild earth Guardians–last year filed a lawsuit challenging’s decision. Among other things, the lawsuit accused Zinke of violating the Federal Land Policy and Management Act by relying on Trump’s pardons and not also considering findings by BLM that the Hammonds had a” “unsatisfactory record of performance and multiple violations of the terms of their permit.”” Simon, an Obama appointee, wrote in his December decision thaZinke’s'” “failure to comply with the governing statutes and regulations, acknowledge his departure from agency policy and practices, and provide a reasoned explanation for that departure are all serious errors (source link).

Here are the facts; we now understand them…Trump told Zinke to either leave or be fired. Zinke chose to leave, allowing Trump to endorse him (Trump always endorses candidates who are smart enough not to stab him in the back on the way out, especially against those doesn’t know, like Al Olszewski). I personally contacted Donald Trump Jr. to explain that conservative Montanans are not for Zinke and to please have his father hold off on an endorsement. He assured me the two had grievances and doubted an endorsement was forthcoming. Junior was wrong. Usually, with a decision of the cabinet member, Trump allows them to make their own announcement. In this case, Trump announced it for him. He then endorsed Zinke, no doubt, but Zinke knew he needed endorsement for this upcoming race.

These controversies are not over. If Zinke returns to Washington, he will still be held liable for the law-breaking and ethical violations he left behind. The U.S. Congress has not forgotten. Montana must send a viable candidate, clean as the driven snow, so that he can be about the work of the Peoples’ business and not cleaning up a mess he has already, once before, left in the swamp of Washington.

That man is Al Olszewski.




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