Ryan Zinke is out as Interior Department Secretary

Ryan Zinke, President Donald Trump’s loyal but embattled secretary of the Interior Department, is leaving the administration. 

President Donald Trump made the announcement on Twitter early Saturday.

The former Montana congressman had a tumultuous tenure as chief steward of America’s natural resources, facing nearly 20 federal investigations ― one of which his agency’s internal watchdog recently referred to the Justice Department for possible criminal violations ― and besieged by a steady drumbeat of unfavorable headlines. 

When Trump nominated Zinke, one of his early supporters, to lead the Interior Department, he said the former Navy SEAL would identify ways to “safely and responsibly” develop America’s natural resources and play a key role in doing away with “bad regulations.” 

Zinke pegged himself as a champion of public lands and a conservationist in the mold of President Theodore Roosevelt. While he initially enjoyed some support from Democrats and environmentalists, many quickly turned on him as he cozied up to fossil fuel interests, embraced sweeping budget cuts that his boss proposed, and prioritized Trump’s “energy dominance” agenda over habitat and resource conservation. 

Theodore Roosevelt IV told HuffPost last year that his great-grandfather would have condemned the job Zinke had done and that many in the Roosevelt family were angry that Zinke repeatedly invoked their ancestor to misrepresent his own actions.

“His concept of how you protect public lands and the values that they represent are certainly very different than the old lion’s,” Roosevelt IV, an investment banker, said at the time. 

Related: US Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

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KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to the media during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a boat to Georges Island, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is interviewed by Reuters, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (L) high fives National Park Service Ranger Beth Jackendoff on his National Monuments review visiting sites around Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke waits to take the stage with President Donald Trump for his on infrastructure improvements, at the Department of Transportation in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (C) talks to National Park Service Rangers, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Ryan Zinke visits SiriusXM Studios on September 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Visitors listen to US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the groundbreaking of the Tower Of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial on the 16th Anniversary ceremony of the September 11th terrorist attacks, September 10, 2017 in Shanksville, PA. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field outside Shanksville, PA with 40 passengers and 4 hijackers aboard on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on June 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed FY2018 budget request for the Interior Department. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, talks with Lucas St. Clair, right, during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. St. Clair's family gifted the land for the monument. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MILLINOCKET, ME - JUNE 15: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with members of the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce and Millinocket town council during a breakfast at Twin Pines Lodge in Millinocket on Thursday, June 14, 2017. Zinke is in Maine for a review of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, one of over two dozen reviews ordered by President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke listens while US President Donald Trump speaks at the US Department of Transportation June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump visit of the Transportation Department is part of a White House push to overhaul America's infrastructure. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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Among Zinke’s most controversial actions was leading the largest reduction of protected national monuments in U.S. history. After a monthslong review that appeared to have been mostly for show, he recommended that Trump gut two protected Utah sites — Bears Ears and Grand Staircase-Escalate national monuments — and shrink or otherwise weaken protections for eight other national monuments. He also came under fire after proposing to open nearly all U.S. waters to offshore drilling, only to turn around and almost immediately remove waters off the coast of Florida from the plan — which some saw as a political maneuver to boost the Senate campaign of Florida Gov. Rick Scott (R). 

Zinke supported drilling in Alaska’s pristine and fragile Arctic National Wildlife Refuge, took aim at a collaborative conservation plan for the greater sage grouse, and proposed drastically hiking entrance fees at 17 of America’s most popular national parks ― even as the administration sought to slash the National Park Service’s budget by 13 percent.

The administration ultimately backed away from the entrance fee proposal. And the government spending bill that Trump signed into law in March increased the park service’s budget by 9 percent.

Like several other members of Trump’s Cabinet, Zinke was the target of numerous ethics probes. He billed taxpayers for his use of private charter planes and government helicopters (instead of taking commercial flights) on at least three occasions ― a controversy Zinke characterized as “a little BS.” The Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General concluded in April that he “generally followed relevant law, policy, rules, and regulations,” but that one trip ― a $12,375 chartered flight from Las Vegas to Montana aboard an oil company’s plane ― was approved by ethics officials “without complete information” and could have been avoided.

Zinke’s troubles escalated in October. 

Citing an internal email sent to staff by Ben Carson, secretary of housing and urban development, The Hill and other media outlets reported that a Trump political appointee at HUD, Suzanne Israel Tufts, was set to replace Mary Kendall as acting inspector general at the Interior Department. But Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift denied the story, saying the media had jumped to conclusions. Tufts subsequently resigned as HUD’s assistant secretary.  

Days later, the Interior Department’s inspector general determined that Zinke had violated government travel policies by bringing his wife along on taxpayer-funded trips. That probe found that Zinke had asked staff to explore making her a department volunteer, a move that would have legitimized her travel. The agency watchdog also concluded that Interior spent $25,000 to send a security detail with Zinke and his wife when they vacationed in Turkey and Greece, but that doing so did not break any rules. 

On Oct. 30, The Washington Post and CNN broke the news that Kendall’s office had referred one of its ongoing investigations into Zinke’s conduct to the Justice Department, signaling possible criminal violations. It’s unclear which probe was referred to Justice, although The New York Times reported it was likely the one looking at Zinke’s ties to a real estate deal in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, which is backed by Halliburton chairman Dave Lesar. 

Responding to the news, Zinke told CNN that the Justice Department’s investigation would “be the same thing as all the other investigations.”

“I follow all rules, procedures, regulations and, most importantly, the law. This is another politically driven investigation that has no merit,” he said.

This is a developing story. Check back for updates. 

  • This article originally appeared on HuffPost.
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