From Trump to Zinke: The Fish Rots From the Head

Even in the ethically-challenged Trump cabinet, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke stands out. He faces no fewer than 17 investigations into ethics violations, including a potential criminal probe. That is why on Friday, the top Democrat on the House National Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl Grijalva, wrote an op-ed calling for his resignation.

The American people need an Interior Department focused on addressing climate change, enhancing public recreation, protecting endangered species and upholding the sovereign rights of Native American communities. These are not matters of personal preference — they are enshrined in law and supported by voters. The department needs someone accountable at the helm who believes in this mission.

Mr. Zinke is not that person. Federal agencies cannot function without credible leadership, and he offers none. He needs to resign.

Zinke fired back viciously.

Notice that the Interior Secretary didn’t even attempt to defend his actions. Instead, he reacted much as Donald Trump has done over the years: by attacking his accuser. This is how you respond when the facts are on your side:

The incident Zinke is referring to involves allegations against Grijalva back in 2015 and made public in an article at the Washington Times in 2017. One female employee in the congressman’s office is reported to have alleged that he was was frequently drunk and created a hostile workplace environment. This is what Grijalva said about the allegations:

Mr. Grijalva, Arizona Democrat, told The Washington Times that the pay was a severance package and that the agreement was reached without a complaint lodged with the Office of Compliance, which handles workplace grievances by congressional employees.

“On the advice of House Employment Counsel, I provided a severance package to a former employee who resigned. “

Other than that, neither the congressman nor the alleged victim is responding because their agreement includes a provision barring both of them from talking about it further. Given that record, it is impossible to say with any certainty whether the employee’s allegations had any merit.

None of that stopped Zinke from running with it, claiming in the most distorted fashion that Grijalva can’t “think straight from the bottom of a bottle” and classifying the severance as “hush money.”

Sinking to that level of personal attack is unacceptable in any context and would be a fireable offense in any other administration. But we all know why that’s not going to happen. Zinke’s boss is probably cheering him on from the sidelines because it is exactly how he would respond. As the old saying goes, “the fish rots from the head.”

Nancy LeTourneau

Nancy LeTourneau is a contributing writer for the Washington Monthly. Follow her on Twitter @Smartypants60 .