Zinke denies Trump forced him to resign

Outgoing Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeOvernight Energy: Perry to step down as Energy secretary | Future of big-game hunting council up in the air | Dems lose vote against EPA power plant rule Future of controversial international hunting council up in the air Overnight Energy: Advisory panel pushes park service to privatize campgrounds | Dems urge Perry to keep lightbulb efficiency rules | Marshall Islands declares national climate crisis MORE denied Friday that he had been fired by President TrumpDonald John TrumpZuckerberg launches public defense of Facebook as attacks mount Trump leaning toward keeping a couple hundred troops in eastern Syria: report Warren says making Israel aid conditional on settlement building is 'on the table' MORE despite reports indicating that the former Montana congressman was forced out of his Cabinet seat by the president over concerns surrounding multiple scandals.

Zinke argued during an interview on Fox News that Trump was "sad" to learn of his impending departure. Asked directly if he had been "forced out" of the Trump administration, Zinke said no.

ADVERTISEMENT

"The president, I think, was sad, but understood I was leaving. I had the president’s – I do have the president’s full support. I exercised what the president wanted," Zinke said.

"I love Interior and I love our public lands. But there comes a time when it's about Ryan Zinke and not the Interior. And the distractions outweigh the accomplishments. And so, looking at it, it's time to dismount," he added, referring to the multiple congressional investigations centered around his conduct at the Interior Department.

The president announced the impending departure of his Interior secretary last week, but did not specify whether the exit was Zinke's choice.

Zinke, who joined the Trump administration last year as the president's first Interior secretary, was also under investigation by agency ethics officials over a land deal involving a foundation he once led, which was referred to the Department of Justice for possible prosecution over potential ethics violations. Zinke denied any wrongdoing in the case.

The former GOP congressman is the second Cabinet secretary to leave amid multiple allegations of misconduct while in office.

Former EPA administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittSierra Club sues EPA over claim that climate change 'is 50 to 75 years out' EPA on 'forever chemicals': Let them drink polluted water EPA moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' MORE previously left the administration after allegations were raised about his proximity to lobbyists while in office.

In the interview Friday, Zinke called on his critics and critics of the president to tone down their rhetoric, which he said had led to personal threats against his family.

"They have threatened my wife, my family, trespassed on our property, put signs around the neighborhood. They have lied, cheated, and made false allegations. This country needs to take a deep breath and understand we’re all Americans," he told Fox News.