After Grijalva calls for him to resign, Zinke responds with blistering tweet

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, in a 2016 photo, lashed out on Twitter at Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who wrote a USA Today editorial calling on Zinke to resign in the face of multiple ethics investigations. (Photo by Gage Skidmore/Creative Commons)

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, who is likely to become chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department, said scrutiny of Interior will “only intensify” next year. (Photo by Johanna Huckeba/Cronkite News)

WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke blasted Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Tucson, on Twitter Friday after the congressman wrote an editorial calling on Zinke to resign “immediately” in the face of multiple, ongoing ethics investigations.

Grijalva, long a critic of Zinke’s and of his management of the Interior Department, said in the op-ed in Friday’s USA Today that the “sheer scope of his (Zinke’s) well-documented scandals” demand that the secretary resign.

Those include at least one inspector general’s investigation that has been referred to the Justice Department for possible prosecution, Grijalva said.

Zinke, in a blistering personal Twitter attack, said several hours later that it was Grijalva who should step down.

The tweet said Grijalva can’t “think straight from the bottom of the bottle” and that the lawmaker should resign and pay back the “hush money and the tens of thousands” of dollars that Interior has spent “investigating unfounded allegations” from Congress.

The tweet appeared to be a reference to news reports of a $48,000 settlement Grijalva reportedly paid a former staffer in 2015, who accused the Tucson Democrat of being drunk at work and creating a hostile work environment.

Zinke’s attack was leveled at a man who is expected to become chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee next year, the panel with direct oversight of the Interior Department.

Even before the tweeted response, Grijalva vowed the committee would be taking a closer look at Zinke and his department once Democrats take over the House next year.

“Should I chair the committee in January, as I hope to do, those questions will only intensify as part of my and my colleagues’ legitimate oversight duties,” Grijalva wrote.

The Interior Department’s inspector general opened an investigation a month ago into Zinke’s land dealings in his home state of Montana – what Grijalva said was at least the 17th investigation into Zinke since he was named secretary last year.

The probe focuses on whether Zinke used his position as secretary to increase the value of land his family owns in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana, by dealing with local developers and officials at Halliburton, an oil contractor.

Other investigations of Zinke have looked into whether he ordered climate change reports censored by the department, reports that the agency would spend $139,000 on three set of office doors and whether he was inappropriately promoting Make America Great Again socks.

Zinke has also been accused of using taxpayer dollars to fund trips on private jets, taking inappropriate amounts of leave and providing government perks to his wife.

The negative publicity may have attracted the attention of the White House, with published reports indicating that Zinke is among a handful of Cabinet secretaries the president is eyeing for replacement.

In his editorial, Grijalva said Zinke has not answered to any of the scandals, and “this silence is insulting to the American people.” He said stepping down to allow for some damage control is the least Zinke could do.

Grijalva also criticized Zinke’s management of the department, which has included the downsizing of national monuments like Bears Ears and plans to cut “thousands” of permanent positions, among other changes.

Grijlava said a resignation would not get rid of the philosophy that permeates the department, but he still thinks it is important for the Natural Resources Committee to take a stand.

“This is, I think, an alert to the Interior that we’re going to hold them accountable regardless,” Grijalva said late Friday morning. “We’re going to question that philosophy.”

When contacted for comment, an Interior spokeswoman said only that “The Secretary’s statement speaks for itself.”

Other members of Congress rushed to Grijalva’s defense, including Rep. Ted Lieu, D-California and Rep. Nydia Velazquez, D-New York, who joined in the call for Zinke’s resignation.

Grijalva said Zinke’s tweet appeared to be aimed at deflecting serious policy issues with personal attacks.

“The American people know who I’m here to serve, and they know in whose interests I’m acting,” Grijalva said in a statement Friday. “They don’t know the same about Secretary Zinke.”