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Interior Secretary Zinke To Step Down Amid Ethics Investigation

United States Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke will step down by the end of the year, according to President Donald Trump, who tweeted a good-bye message to Zinke on Saturday.

“Secretary of the Interior @RyanZinke will be leaving the Administration at the end of the year after having served for a period of almost two years. Ryan has accomplished much during his tenure and I want to thank him for his service to our Nation,” Trump wrote.

Trump followed up with a second tweet, announcing that the administration would name a new Interior Secretary sometime in the next two weeks, before the new year.

The resignation seemed to come as a surprise — despite indications that the president intends a major staff shakeup as the Trump administration enters its third year — but The Washington Post reports that Zinke has been under pressure to resign or be fired for weeks, as Congressional investigators and enterprising reporters closed in on a potential ethics violation.

“That probe, which continues, is examining whether a land deal Zinke struck with the chairman of oil services giant Halliburton in his hometown of Whitefish, Mont., constituted a conflict of interest,” WaPo says, adding that Zinke is the latest in a string of high-profile Trump administration appointments to resign amid concerns they used their office to obtain special favors.

Zinke says the allegations are a farce, and pointed out on Twitter Saturday that he’s been subject to a constant stream of Freedom of Information Act requests and politically motivated attacks since taking office, largely, he seems to feel, because he’s been instrumental in rolling back restrictive Obama-era environmental policies that choked off industry and failed to move the cause of conservation forward.

“I love working for the President and am incredibly proud of all the good work we’ve accomplished together. However, after 30 years of public service, I cannot justify spending thousands of dollars defending myself and my family against false allegations,” Zinke tweeted Saturday.

Indeed, Zinke has been “public enemy number one” for environmentalists, even though Zinke is a dedicated conservationist who makes his home in the deep west. His primary sin? Helping to re-open land in the west and in Alaksa for oil and gas prospecting — something the Obama administration abruptly ended, citing environmental concerns that Zinke and his Interior Department claim were vastly overblown.

CNN reports that the White House is looking at several possible replacements: “contenders for his position include Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt and Nevada Republican Sen. Dean Heller, who lost his re-election race, sources with knowledge of the situation said.”

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