Top Dem lawmaker likely to oversee Interior calls for Ryan Zinke's resignation

The future likely head of the House committee that oversees the Interior Department called for Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeInterior's border surge puts more officers in unfamiliar role Not 'if' but 'when' is the next Deepwater Horizon spill? Former Wyoming GOP lawmaker mulling Senate bid to replace Enzi MORE to resign.

Rep. Raúl Grijalva (D-Ariz.) said Zinke needs to step down from his job, in a USA Today op-ed Friday, citing the Cabinet secretary’s “ethical and managerial failings.”

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“While the secretary continues to project confidence, questions have grown since the election about his future plans, and the White House reportedly fears that he would be unable to withstand scrutiny on Capitol Hill,” Grijalva wrote.

“Those fears are justified. Mr. Zinke has never even tried to offer an explanation for the sheer scope of his well-documented scandals.”

As ranking member of the House Natural Resources committee, Grijalva has lead multiple inquiries into Zinke, including requesting Interior's Inspector General's (IG) office look into reports that the secretary unlawfully entered into a real estate deal with the Chairman of oil services company Halliburton. The IG’s office last month referred that investigation to the Department of Justice.

“The important thing to us was that Mr. Zinke not be allowed to treat his office as a source of personal enrichment. The fact that the Justice Department was alerted is Mr. Zinke’s fault, not the fault of the media or anyone else his office has chosen to blame,” he wrote.

Grijalva in many other instances requested documents and details pertaining to additional concerning Interior Department decisions, many of which were never provided. One example includes a request from his office for more details on an Interior Department decision to send hundreds of U.S. Park Police officers to help apprehend immigrants at the U.S.-Mexico border — a story first reported by The Hill. No response was ever given.

It’s an issue that has frequently irked the congressman, who is promising to push for answers when he has more authority next year.

“This silence is insulting to the American people, and given the Nov. 6 election results it is unsustainable. Continuing in office as though nothing has changed only shows how little Mr. Zinke has learned over the past year and a half,” wrote Grijalva.

“The least he can do is step down and give his successor a chance to begin reversing that damage."

The congressman additionally pointed to Zinke’s “dumbing down of science,” retaliation on whistleblowers, and a number of questionable job rearrangements at the National Park Service, as reasons why he should step down.

Zinke is also under investigation by the IG for a decision to bar a casino from being built on a Massachusetts tribe’s land after MGM heavily lobbied to have the construction stopped. In October, Interior’s IG office found that Zinke had misused taxpayer money when he allowed his wife to accompany him on work travel.

Zinke’s future overseeing the agency appeared tenuous earlier this fall following reports that President TrumpDonald John TrumpTrump: 'I will not let Iran have nuclear weapons' Rocket attack hits Baghdad's Green Zone amid escalating tensions: reports Buttigieg on Trump tweets: 'I don't care' MORE was looking to replace a number of Cabinet secrertaries, including Zinke. Following reports of the potential DOJ investigation into Zinke, Trump told reporters he was looking into it, but still suggested the secretary was doing a good job.

Then this month Trump sent Zinke to California to survey the damage from the deadly wildfires burning through the state. Zinke pushed the need for increased forest management — or logging, a talking point routinely tweeted by Trump.

“Should I chair the committee in January, as I hope to do, those questions will only intensify as part of my and my colleagues’ legitimate oversight duties. If Mr. Zinke stays, stonewalling in the belief that a cabinet secretary answers only to Trump would be a mistake,” wrote Grijalva.

-- Updated Dec. 1, 12:45 p.m.