Western Values Project has issued what it calls a “side-by-side analysis of Pruitt’s and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s numerous scandals.”
The critics who saw EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt toppled by ethics complaints have sought to deploy similar tactics against Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.
Consider Zinke’s socks.
On June 26, Zinke hiked at Mount Rushmore National Memorial with governors from Western states. Using his official Twitter account, Zinke posted a picture of his pair of socks bearing the likeness of President Trump, as well as Trump’s “Make America Great Again” campaign slogan.
The tweet was conveyed to some 80,000 followers of Zinke’s account. These included the Campaign for Accountability, which brought to Zinke’s attention his apparent violation of the Hatch Act. The law prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity while on duty and is enforced by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel.
“While on duty or in the workplace, employees may not: wear, display, or distribute items with the slogan ‘Make America Great Again’ or any other materials from President Trump’s 2016 or 2020 campaigns; use hashtags such as #MAGA or #ResistTrump in social media posts or other forums; or display non-official pictures of President Trump,” the office wrote in May.
Zinke deleted the offending tweet and apologized, but that didn’t end the matter.
On June 27, the Campaign for Accountability filed a four-page complaint with both the Office of Special Counsel and Interior’s Office of Inspector General. In doing so, the private watchdog group explicitly tried to tie the socks into a broader and darker ethics narrative.
“Secretary Zinke continues to play fast and loose with federal ethics laws,” Campaign for Accountability Executive Director Daniel Stevens said in a release that urged officials to “investigate Secretary Zinke’s conduct and sanction him for violating the Hatch Act.”
While socks seem utterly trivial, the use of the phrase “continues to play fast and loose” conveys the impression of “yet-another controversy,” which in time can accumulate to the kind of unbearable weight that pulled down Pruitt yesterday (Climatewire, July 6).
Cognizant of the power of political narrative and acutely attuned to Zinke’s potential missteps, congressional Democrats and environmental groups have filed a number of complaints against the former Navy SEAL officer. Some, like the Western Values Project, also amplify the narrative by routinely characterizing Zinke as “embattled.”
Driving the narrative point home, the Western Values Project today issued what it called a “side-by-side analysis of Pruitt’s and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s numerous scandals.”
Even Pruitt’s own communications team tried peddling negative stories about Zinke as a way to distract attention from their floundering boss, according to a report in The Atlantic.
The ethics complaints themselves have had mixed results, but they are a bell that can’t be unrung.
In an email today, Stevens said that “we did not get a response” to the latest Hatch Act complaint, but he defended the request.
“Public officials are supposed to follow the law,” Stevens said. “If Secretary Zinke adhered to the law, there would be no need to file a complaint.”
Last September, the Campaign for Accountability filed an Office of Special Counsel complaint over Zinke’s 2017 speech before the Vegas Golden Knights professional ice hockey team. The team is owned by William Foley, a businessman whose campaign contributions have included thousands of dollars in support for Zinke’s 2014 congressional race.
The OSC found nothing wrong with Zinke’s speech (Greenwire, June 6).
“There is no evidence or allegation … that Secretary Zinke gave a political speech or otherwise engaged in political activity during this event,” the OSC’s two-page letter stated.
The OSC’s findings followed an earlier report by the Office of Inspector General, requested by congressional Democrats, that concluded Zinke’s use of chartered aircraft last year “generally followed relevant law, policy, rules, and regulations.”
“The report shows that in every instance reviewed, the secretary’s staff consulted with and sought prior approval from the career ethics officials and travel lawyers, and that we follow their expert advice,” Interior spokesperson Heather Swift said.
Interior’s OIG is in the midst of undertaking a “preliminary review” of Zinke’s “purported business activities” that involve a foundation now headed by Zinke’s wife and his possible role in a real estate deal backed by Halliburton Co. Chairman David Lesar.