Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke Leaves White House Amid Multiple Ethics Investigations

Shawn ThewGetty Images

Wednesday marked the final day that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke was part of the Trump administration. The former cabinet member announced he would step down back in December, amid numerous ethics investigations.

According to the Hill, Zinke is currently facing an investigation from the Justice Department regarding him using his office for personal gain. The Interior Department’s inspector general has also announced multiple inquiries regarding Zinke and his actions under the Trump administration. These investigations are ongoing.

But Zinke made no mention of his legal woes on Wednesday, although he did share a short Twitter message regarding his departure. He posted a picture of a handwritten note in red ink on paper that bore the heading, “The Secretary of the Interior, Washington.”

“It’s been a high honor to serve @POTUS & the American People as @Interior Secretary,” he wrote. “We’ve restored public lands ‘for the benefit & enjoyment of the people,’ improved public access & shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs. God bless America & those who defend her.”

Zinke was a part of the Trump administration for 22 months. During that time, he received backlash for rolling back major environmental policies. He also was a passionate proponent of the use of fossil fuel and often backed increased production. He has not announced what his plans will be following his departure from the White House.

Although Zinke announced his plans to resign on December 15, no replacement has been announced as of this date. Donald Trump originally said that he would announce his nominee within a week of Zinke’s resignation, but still has yet to name one.

In the meantime, Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt is operating as acting secretary during the lapse. Bernhardt, a lawyer and former lobbyist for the oil industry, has already cut himself as a controversial figure. His ties to the fossil fuel industry — and close connections with major companies in the field — have raised questions about his stance on environmental issues.

Bernhardt, who previously worked with the Interior Department from 2001 to 2009, has been a vocal supporter of Donald Trump since he came into office and has repeatedly endorsed the views and policies of the president.

“The President’s objectives actually represent the will of the people,” Bernhardt said in September 2018 while speaking to conservative Washington think-tank the Heritage Foundation. “That means that at Interior, our goals are focused on the President’s goals.”

The Interior Department is currently closed due to the ongoing government shutdown. When Trump settles on a nominee for the position, his choice will ultimately have to be confirmed by the Senate.