WASHINGTON — Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva does not yet have his gavel, but that’s not stopping the Arizona Democrat, who is expected to head the House Natural Resources Committee come January, from informing scandal-plagued Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke that his days as a member of the Trump administration are numbered.
In an op-ed published by USA Today on Friday, Grijalva called on Zinke to resign over his “ethical and managerial failings.” Grijalva cited the more than a dozen ongoing investigations into Zinke’s behavior, the most damaging of which involves a land deal with a Halliburton executive in Zinke’s native Montana. He also pointed to Zinke’s well-known friendliness to energy companies. Grijalva and other congressional Democrats have accused Zinke of essentially giving land away to energy concerns.
“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 in his op-ed, which was widely shared on social media.
Zinke did not take kindly to the warning. “It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke wrote on Twitter. “This is coming from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior.”
The secretary’s tweet was appended with a hashtag, #Tuneinnformore, that alluded to the Tune Inn, a classic Capitol Hill dive bar beloved by legislators not looking to attract attention or share space with tourists. In the warmer months, Grijalva can frequently be found sitting at an outdoor table at the Tune Inn, enjoying a pint.
The tweet also alluded to a $48,000 settlement a former Grijalva employee received after alleging in 2015 that he created a hostile workplace. The allegations reportedly included alcohol abuse, but not sexual harassment.
Reached on Friday afternoon by Yahoo News, Grijalva called the settlement “stuff that’s already been dealt with.” He said that the allegations about his behavior made at the time were “not credible or true,” though he did not go into specifics. “One goes on,” Grijalva said.
Nor did Grijalva appear cowed by Zinke’s response to his op-ed. “The fact remains he didn’t address any of the issues I brought up,” the congressman from the Arizona borderlands added. Grijalva has previously indicated that, as House Natural Resources chairman, he would move to investigate both Zinke’s personal conduct and his leadership of the Interior Department, which critics charge has become beholden to energy companies.
“He wants to cover up whatever is going on in that department under his tenure. And that’s typical,” Grijalva said. Since the departure of Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, who left in July after becoming entangled in an impressive number of investigations, Zinke has widely been seen as the most vulnerable of Trump’s Cabinet picks. Trump has reportedly grown disenchanted with Zinke, but despite a widely expected house cleaning of the presidential Cabinet after the midterm election, the Montana cowboy has stayed on.
“If he is still secretary of Interior” come January, Grijalva told Yahoo News in a telephone conversation, “which I assume he will be, we will deal with that.” The Department of Interior did not respond to a request for comment. Zinke also did not respond to a request for comment sent to what is believed to be his personal email address.
Zinke himself is known to enjoy a drink and was, in fact, spotted with a glass of wine at the Trump International Hotel on Thursday evening, just hours before USA Today published Grijalva’s op-ed. Zinke was there to celebrate “Trump’s Enemies,” the new book by close Trump associates Corey Lewandowski and David Bossie.
And at least one of Zinke’s scandals is beer-related: The deal he reportedly sought with Halliburton executive David Lesar would have allowed Zinke to open a brewpub — which he planned to call Double Tap, an allusion to his military career, as well as to beer taps — in Whitefish, the scenic Montana town where he was born and raised.
That prompted Yahoo News to ask Grijalva if he would attend a beer summit with Zinke, of the kind that President Barack Obama famously convened in 2009 at the White House. Could the Arizona liberal and Montana conservative come to some understanding over pints of Liquid Truth Serum IPA?
That is unlikely. “This is way beyond a beer summit,” Grijalva said.
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