Inspector general reports coming soon on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Two major reports are expected this month from the Interior Department's inspector general, wrapping up two investiga...

Posted: Apr 10, 2018 1:15 PM
Updated: Apr 10, 2018 1:15 PM

Two major reports are expected this month from the Interior Department's inspector general, wrapping up two investigations that have been hanging over Secretary Ryan Zinke's head for several months.

A review of more than 30 reassignments of senior executive staffers -- many of whom were minorities or women -- could be completed by the end of this week. CNN reported last month that Zinke has been telling staff that he isn't focused on diversity. Meanwhile, some of the reassigned staffers complained they felt they were being retaliated against for political reasons.

Next week, another report is expected on Zinke's use of military and private aircraft, one a plane owned by pool executives, while traveling to his hometown and in the US Virgin Islands.

Over the past year, Zinke has faced numerous questions from media and Congress about his travel practices, and apparent mixing of business and personal travel.

He and other Cabinet members -- including Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Housing and Urban Development Secretary Ben Carson and now-departed Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin -- have been under investigation and scrutiny for travel or personal-related spending throughout the past year.

These are just two of several open investigations that loom over Zinke.

The Office of Special Counsel is considering two possible Hatch Act violations related to Zinke's trips to Pennsylvania and Florida.

In February, during a special election in western Pennsylvania, Zinke announced $56 million in grants to help clean up abandoned mining sites at an event with state Rep. Rick Saccone, the Republican candidate in the tight race. Democrats asked for an investigation, and say the Office of Special Counsel is reviewing the request.

On Friday CNN reported that the ranking Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raul Grijalva of Arizona, is calling for a Hatch Act investigation into whether Zinke violated the act when he announced Florida's exemption from expanded offshore drilling with Republican Gov. Rick Scott.

The Office of Special Counsel told CNN it has received the letter and opened a file. Grijalva's office says the OSC confirmed to them that it is taking up the review. (The Office of Special Counsel is unrelated to the Russia investigation by special counsel Robert Muller.)

The Government Accountability Office wrote a letter back in September to Rep. Frank Pallone Jr. saying the GAO is writing a legal opinion on whether Zinke threatened two Republican Alaska senators during the heated health care debate. It was sparked by an interview with Sen. Dan Sullivan in the Alaska Dispatch News in which Sullivan recalled a "troubling" conversation with Zinke, saying he seemed to threaten consequences for Alaska if Sullivan didn't support Obamacare repeal.

"I'm not going to go into the details, but I fear that the strong economic growth, pro-energy, pro-mining, pro-jobs and personnel from Alaska who are part of those policies are going to stop," Sullivan said.

The inspector general closed an investigation when both Sullivan and Sen. Lisa Murkowski declined to cooperate. Zinke called the suggestion "laughable."

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