When President Donald Trump announced early Saturday that Ryan Zinke would be leaving his administration at the end of the year, it wasn't made explicitly clear whether the Interior Department secretary was leaving on his own accord or just simply getting the boot. However, according to a new report from the Associated Press, Zinke tendered his own resignation in a letter to Trump on Saturday, although it's safe to assume he likely faced increasing pressure to resign as the number of ethics inquiries against him grew. In fact, Zinke's resignation letter cited "vicious and politically motivated attacks" as his reason for leaving.
In his letter of resignation Zinke blamed the "vicious and politically motivated attacks" launched against him for having "created an unfortunate distraction," according to the Associated Press, which reportedly obtained a copy of Zinke's resignation letter from one of the Interior secretary's aides. Zinke reportedly went on to characterize the allegations levied against him as "meritless and false," arguing that "to some, truth no longer matters."
In a statement released on Twitter, Zinke said he "loved" working with Trump and was "incredibly proud of all the good work" they'd accomplished. "However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations," he said. "It is better for the president and Interior to focus on accomplishments rather than fictitious allegations."
But what Zinke has called "vicious and politically motivated attacks," watchdog groups and government investigators have called ethics inquiries.
In October, The New York Times reported that there were "at least 18 known federal investigations into allegations of ethical misconduct or other policy violations" launched against Zinke, although some of those have since been closed or stalled due to a lack of cooperation or information from the Interior Department. But according to The Times' running tally, inquiries into Zinke include investigations the Interior Department's inspector general opened into Zinke's handling of tribal casino permits and whether or not his involvement in a land deal with Halliburton Chairman David Lesar violated conflict-of-interest laws.
They also include at least two separate investigations opened by the federal agency tasked with enforcing the Hatch Act to determine if Zinke violated the law barring any federal employee from using their position to influence local, state, or national elections. Other investigations include inquiries into his spending, the mysterious removal of all references noting that humans contribute to climate change in a National Park Service report, and allegations of workplace retaliation. Bustle has reached out to the Department of Interior for comment.
While some inquiries have been closed or simply stalled out, others have proved more problematic for Zinke. In October, for example, a report from the Interior's inspector general concluded that Zinke had violated the agency's travel policies by allowing his wife and, in another instance, a nongovernment employee to travel in government vehicles. Later that month, The Washington Post reported that the inspector general had referred one of its investigations — believed to be its inquiry into Zinke's involvement in the Halliburton land deal — to the Department of Justice to determine if criminal charges were necessary. In November, The Washington Post reported that Trump's confidence in Zinke was weakening as the inquiries into his conduct mounted.
On Saturday, Trump claimed Zinke had "accomplished much during his tenure" as secretary and thanked him for his service. The president is expected to announce Zinke's replacement sometime next week.