Interior Secretary Zinke Stepping Down Amid Ethics Inquiry

Trump's Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke - who rode a horse to the Department of the Interior on his first day of work - has notified the White House he intends to step down amid an ethics investigation by the Interior Department's inspector general into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, Bloomberg reported on Saturday morning with the president confirming the departure by tweet moments later.

News of Zinke’s departure comes as Democrats, who are about to take control of the House of Representatives, have vowed to grill the him over his conduct raising the prospect of heightened oversight - and a flood of legal bills from defending himself. According to Bloomberg, concern about all the scrutiny and legal costs on the horizon were factors in Zinke’s decision to quit.

Zinke's impending departure also emerges as President Donald Trump grapples with other changes to his Cabinet that underscore the challenges of filling vacancies in a tumultuous administration.

On Friday, Trump announced that budget director Mick Mulvaney would take over as chief of staff, replacing John Kelly, whose ouster on Dec. 8 touched off a roller-coaster search to fill the key White House post.

The Interior Department’s inspector general had initiated at least seven investigations directly targeting Zinke. A separate independent federal investigative agency also has opened as many as six other inquiries into allegations Zinke engaged in improper political activity - a volume that invited comparisons to the ousted Environmental Protection Agency chief, Scott Pruitt.

Trump’s been aware of Zinke’s plans for several days, and a search for a replacement is under way with Zinke's replacement expected to be announced next week.

Zinke had championed using federal lands to pursue U.S. “energy dominance,” and that agenda will be continued by his likely successor as acting Interior Secretary: David Bernhardt, the agency’s No. 2 official. As deputy he’s played a key, behind-the-scenes role in shaping the department’s policies, according to Bloomberg.

Other potential contenders for the post include Cynthia Lummis, a former congresswoman from Wyoming; Utah Attorney General Sean Reyes; Adam Laxalt, the Nevada attorney general who lost his bid to be governor ; Idaho Governor C.L. “Butch” Otter; former Nevada Senator Dean Heller, who lost his re-election bid in November; and outgoing Wisconsin Governor Scott Walker. The role is typically filled by Western politicians who have experience navigating the vast federal lands.

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