86°F
weather icon Clear

Ryan Zinke to leave Trump administration at year’s end

Updated December 15, 2018 - 12:36 pm

WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke submitted his resignation Saturday to President Donald Trump, who announced that the former Navy Seal from Montana would leave at the end of the year, raising speculation on replacements that include Nevada Sen. Dean Heller.

“Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation,” Trump said in a morning tweet from a social media account.

Zinke is the subject of multiple investigations, and Trump hinted weeks ago that he might replace the former Montana congressman.

Immediate speculation of possible replacements included Heller, the only Republican Senate incumbent to lose on Nov. 6, and other potential candidates with a background in public land policy.

In an interview with the Review-Journal before the Zinke announcement, Heller left open the possibility that he would accept an administration appointment, whether it be Interior or another Cabinet-level or departmental position.

The senator was not actively seeking a post, and when asked if he would accept an appointment, he replied: “I don’t have the answer to that question.”

Trump and Vice President Mike Pence campaigned in Nevada for Heller, who lost to freshman Rep. Jacky Rosen in an election that saw Democrats sweep federal and almost all state offices.

Heller said he had not been approached by anyone in the administration about a possible appointment, and said he would return to Nevada to contemplate his future.

“I do know what I’m going to do initially,” Heller said. “And that’s spend more time with (wife) Lynne.”

Heller was not immediately available for comment Saturday.

The Washington Post reported several other possible contenders to replace Zinke, including Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt, and Rep. Bob Bishop, R-Utah, chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee.

Bishop will become the ranking member on the Natural Resources panel on Jan. 3 when Democrats take control of the House.

Bishop was instrumental in getting the Trump administration to reduce the size of several national monuments designated for protection by President Barack Obama, including Gold Butte in Nevada.

Heller also sought a reduction in the size of Gold Butte and Basin and Range national monuments, and urged the Trump administration to reduce the boundaries. A small reduction was made at Gold Butte.

Pressure from Bishop and the Utah congressional delegation led to a large rollback of the boundaries at Bears Ears National Monument and Grande Staircase Escalante National Monument.

Shrinking the national monuments was engineered by Zinke, who drew intense criticism from environmental groups, Democrats and tribal leaders who accused the administration of favoring special interests in land use policy.

“Ryan Zinke was an unmitigated disaster for Nevada’s wildlife and public lands,” said Patrick Donnelly, Nevada state director with the Center for Biological Diversity.

Donnelly said Zinke put 1 million acres of Nevada lands on the auction block for oil drilling and fracking, denied endangered species protections and allowed “violent zealots” to run cattle and “trash our precious Gold Butte National Monument.

“Good riddance to the worst Interior secretary America has ever known,” Donnelly said.

But Sen. Lisa Murkowski, R-Alaska, chairwoman of the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, praised Zinke for taking a different approach to public land management and listening to all interests when developing policy.

“He has been a strong partner for western states and for Alaska, in particular,” Murkowski said.

She credited Zinke for his priority on energy dominance, opening up Alaska lands for oil development, and eliminating the maintenance backlog at National Parks.

“Secretary Zinke has done a lot of good things for our country,” Murkowski said.

But Zinke’s tenure at the Interior Department was marred by investigations into ethical lapses, extravagant spending and a questionable land deal with an energy firm in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana.

House Speaker-designate Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., said Zinke was the subject of 15 investigations over official misconduct and misuse of taxpayer’s funds.

“Americans are confronted with an administration of unprecedented corruption, cronyism and incompetence, which has shown zero respect for the office or taxpayers’ money,” Pelosi said.

Zinke was cleared of wrongdoing by the Interior Department Office of Special Counsel for a June 2017 chartered airplane trip from Las Vegas to Montana after a giving a speech to the Golden Knights hockey team.

The team is owned by billionaire Bill Foley, whose financial firm was a large donor to Zinke’s congressional race.

The chartered aircraft cost taxpayers $12,375, and was cleared by Interior ethics officials, who said they were unaware of the connection between Zinke and Foley.

With Zinke leaving, Bernhardt will become the acting secretary and can serve in the role for months before the president must nominate a permanent successor who must receive Senate confirmation.

Bernhardt first served in the Interior Department under President George W. Bush. He joined a lobbying firm in 2009 following his tenure as official counsel to the interior secretary.

He was confirmed as Interior deputy secretary under Zinke in 2017, where he worked on the administration’s review of the 2015 sage grouse protections agreed to by Western states, conservation groups and industries.

The deputy also launched a review of the Endangered Species Act, which drew criticism from Democrats and conservation groups.

“Trump is just replacing one scandal-plagued secretary with the ultimate DC swamp creature and ex-lobbyist David Bernhardt,” said Chris Saeger, executive director of the Western Values Project in Whitefish, Montana.

Contact Gary Martin at gmartin@reviewjournal.com or 202-662-7390. Follow @garymartindc on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
Politics Videos
Media's Double Standard On Incitement And Trump - Video
Over the weekend, an Elizabeth Warren-supporting socialist who opposed gun violence used a rifle to commit a mass murder in Dayton, Ohio. The media has downplayed that aspect of the tragedy.
Project Our Care Tour Kicks Off In Las Vegas
U.S. Rep. Dina Titus joined health care advocates and local residents as part of Protect Our Care’s nationwide bus tour kick off in Las Vegas on Monday, August 5, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Bernie Sanders talks about guns, response to El Paso shooting
Sen. Bernie Sanders spoke about his response and continued policy ideas about guns and gun control to the Review-Journal after a panel of other topics. (Rachel Aston/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Pete Buttigieg On Gun Control And Climate Change - Video
Pete Buttigieg talks about his campaign for the 2020 election and how Nevada is a vision of what the future can be.
Beto O'Rourke speaks in Las Vegas
Presidential candidate Beto O'Rourke spoke to supporters at the East Las Vegas Community Center in Las Vegas, Thursday, Aug. 2, 2019. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Former Nevada Senate leader Kelvin Atkinson sentenced to prison
Former Nevada Senate Majority Leader Kelvin Atkinson, who pleaded guilty to misusing campaign funds, was sentenced to 27 months in prison on Thursday, July 18, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Trumps Strength is also a Weakness - Video
One of Donald Trump’s greatest strengths — his ability to shape national narratives — is also a great weakness.
Tax the Rich Bus Tour makes a stop in Las Vegas - Video
The Tax the Rich Bus has stopped in Las Vegas as part of its summer tour. (Las Vegas Review-Journal)
Assemblywoman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ - Video
Assembly Woman Daniele Monroe-Moreno hosts BBQ to bring the community together to hear about the candidates up for election and for people to gather and have fun.
Democrat Virtual Caucus - Video
Elizabeth Warren visits Las Vegas
Senator Elizabeth Warren made a campaign stop at the East Las Vegas Community Center on Tuesday July 2, 2019. (Mat Luschek / Review-Journal)
Aaron Ford Speaks About Bill AB431
AB431 is a bill sponsored by Nevada Assembly Speaker Jason Frierson to restore the right to vote for formerly incarcerated individuals. Attorney General Aaron Ford spoke at the AM&E Church in North Las Vegas about the bill, on Monday, July 1, 2019. (Mat Luschek/Las Vegas Review-Journal)
The Right Take: Biden's Racially Questionable Comments
Joe Biden has uttered racially charged statements for years. Now that he’s the frontrunner for the Democrat presidential nomination, he may finally face prolonged scrutiny for them.
Christopher Rufo Discusses Homelessness In The USA - VIDEO
Christopher Rufo discusses homelessness in the United States and how politicians can work to improve conditions for those with drug addictions.
Clark County 2019 Election Results - Video
The 2019 Elections wrap up in Clark County including an upset in the Boulder City Mayor race.
Olivia Diaz talks about her win in Ward 3 - VIDEO
Las Vegas City Councilwoman-elect Olivia Diaz talks about her election win in Ward 3 and what lies ahead for her.
Greene discusses Read by 3 and Opportunity Scholarships - VIDEO
The Nevada Legislative Session is over and the results are mixed for Nevada students, according to Tom Greene, Senior regional legislative director, Excel in Ed in Action.
Bernie Sanders visits Las Vegas
Sen. Bernie Sanders made a stop at Roy W. Martin middle school on Thursday, during his campaign trail.
THE LATEST
As Trump questions loyalty of US Jews, Netanyahu silent

Yuval Steinitz, a Cabinet minister in Netanyahu’s Likud party who is close to the prime minister, dismissed it as internal U.S. politics.