Ryan Zinke’s ‘Deep State’ Speech Ignores the Multiple Ethics Investigations He Faced As Interior Secretary

In 2018, Trump administration Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke resigned amid numerous ethics investigations. Four years later, Zinke returned to Washington as a newly elected representative from Montana, and just days after taking office delivered a speech to the House of Representatives blaming the “deep state” for attempting to stop his election and for endangering “the American cowboy.”

Zinke’s speech offered no evidence to back up his allegations and also made no mention of the multiple ethics scandals that led to his resignation. In 2017, American Oversight began investigating a range of concerns about Zinke’s conduct in office, including his decision to exempt Florida from an expanded offshore drilling plan, the arranging of personal VIP tours of national parks, costly taxpayer-funded travel, the involvement of his wife in official government business, and his role in a questionable real-estate deal involving an executive from the energy company Halliburton.

American Oversight’s investigations helped to uncover:

  • Records revealing taxpayer dollars spent on questionable travel: Zinke’s travels included $12,000 chartered flights to his hometown, with his wife, Lola Zinke, tagging along on many of the trips. It was also reported that the couple spent $25,000 on a security detail. Along with the nonprofit group Western Values Project, we sued to find out more about Lola Zinke’s involvement in the department and obtained records of her participation in official government travel.
  • Records that showed how Interior officials under Zinke worked to arrange VIP tours of national parks for Trump administration allies: This included Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue, White House counselor Kellyanne Conway, friends of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos, and more. The requests also included private tours with Zinke, a tour for Rudy Giuliani’s son, and visits to the West Wing.
  • Communications between the Interior Department and the re-election campaign of Florida Gov. Rick Scott: In January 2018, after an impromptu meeting with Scott, Zinke announced that Florida would be exempt from the Trump administration’s plan to increase offshore drilling. American Oversight sued to learn more about Florida’s preferential treatment and whether the decision was a political favor to boost Scott’s campaign.
  • Calendars belonging to senior members of Zinke’s staff: One calendar revealed a meeting with an energy company CEO that had not previously been disclosed to the public.
  • Emails that revealed Zinke’s taxpayer-funded taxidermy office decorations: Zinke and his senior aides arranged for various taxidermied animals, including a bison, elk, grizzly, and moose, to be installed in their offices at taxpayers’ expense. 

Read more about what we have uncovered — and the outstanding questions we still had when Zinke left the Department of the Interior — here.