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Chris Saeger

CHRIS SAEGER

Ryan Zinke, the most scandal-plagued Interior secretary in modern history, has finally gone a bridge too far. It is, at long last, time for him to go.

Last week, news broke that the Department of Interior’s Inspector General had referred one of its ongoing probes into Zinke to the Department of Justice  for an investigation into whether the secretary abused his office “for personal gain.” According to news reports, DOJ is investigating potential criminal violations related to a sweetheart land deal with the chairman of Halliburton that would personally enrich Zinke and his family.

The mere question of whether a sitting cabinet official criminally used the vast powers of a federal agency for personal enrichment should be enough to sink them. Never mind the fact that Zinke has been the subject of 15 known federal investigations into his ethical lapses and corrupt behavior.

From chartering planes on the taxpayers’ dime to scrubbing official calendars to hide his meetings with special interests and industry lobbyists, Zinke has sought at every turn to avoid accountability — all while doing special interests’ bidding to undermine protections for our public lands and natural resources.

Just last month, the IG released a searing report which found that Secretary Zinke repeatedly broke Interior policy by having his family travel with him in federal vehicles. He also tried to bend the rules to make his wife an Interior “volunteer” so she could travel with him at taxpayer expense, and ultimately changed Interior policy to let her ride with him. Additionally, he spent a whopping $25,000 in taxpayer dollars by bringing his official security detail on his vacation.

But that isn’t the worst of it.

The report was released under bizarre circumstances that call into question the integrity of leadership at the Interior Department. The highly irregular series of events leading up to this damning IG report — including a leaked and subsequently walked-back announcement of an Inspector General replacement — reeks of political interference and a botched cover-up. Recent reports say that the attempted firing happened just days after the IG referred an investigation into Zinke to the Department of Justice. It surely seems as if Zinke tried firing and replacing the IG with a political ally who would help him escape accountability for his actions.

Although we don’t know what happened in the run-up to this most recent Inspector General report, we do know that since becoming Interior Secretary, Zinke has been found to misuse public funds, break rules, and use his influence to help his friends and special interests. His response hasn’t been to own up for his mistakes and ethical shortcomings. Instead, he has gone so far as to call some of the investigations “B.S.”

Accountability is central to any organization, whether it’s a small business, a corporate boardroom or the federal government. Actions have consequences, and time and again Zinke has failed to act with integrity and has violated the public’s trust.

Now, after 20 scandal-plagued months, culminating in a criminal referral to the DOJ from his own department’s IG, a report detailing abuse of his position, and an apparent botched cover-up, Zinke should do the honorable thing and resign. If he doesn’t, President Trump has no choice but to show him the door.

Either way, Ryan Zinke’s time is up.

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Chris Saeger lives in Whitefish and is executive director of Western Values Project, which advocates for responsible management of public lands.

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