Zinke's Handwritten Resignation Note: A Bear To Read, A Bone To Critics

Jan 3, 2019
Originally published on January 3, 2019 8:06 am

Updated at 10:12 a.m. ET

Outgoing Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke entered office on a horse and left via a resignation note he wrote in thick red strokes. He posted a photo of that resignation on Twitter, and an avalanche of criticism soon followed from readers who assailed his penmanship, ethics and industry-friendly track record while managing 500 million acres of public lands.

Zinke's letter was barely legible, but he typed out his missive as well: "It's been a high honor to serve the President and the American People as Interior Secretary. We've restored public lands 'for the benefit & enjoyment of the people,' improved public access & shall never be held hostage again for our energy needs. God bless America & those who defend her."

One commenter on Twitter wondered, "Only coloring markers and crayons available in this administration?"

Maybe, one commenter posed to Zinke, the letter "was written by the horse you rode in on."

NPR's Nathan Rott reports that the secretary's choice to ride a horse to work reflected how he imagined himself: as a modern incarnation of President Theodore Roosevelt, a conservationist who established the U.S. Forest Service as well as hundreds of national forests and reserves. "Zinke went the opposite way, reducing protections on millions of acres of land by shrinking national monuments, opening up the coastlines and vast areas of the West to oil and gas leasing," Rott reports.

Environmentalists groups including Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, the Coalition to Protect America's National Parks and the National Resources Defense Council assailed Zinke for his policies, NPR reports.

Zinke's letter drew more fire from critics of his approach.

"So this was written with the blood of an endangered animal, right?" one commenter mused.

Zinke departed his office under the threat of numerous ethics investigations. NPR reports one case is a real estate deal involving Zinke and the chairman of the oil and gas titan Halliburton. In another case, Zinke is suspected of blocking a proposal from Native American tribes in Connecticut to expand a casino because of political pressure and lobbying from MGM Resorts International.

President Trump announced Zinke's resignation by tweet in mid-December. Zinke left office before Democrats were set to take control of the House of Representatives, where they could use their power to launch congressional probes.

Oil and gas leaders have hailed Zinke for unlocking possibilities for energy development.

At least one Twitter user had words of praise for the departing official: "Thank you for all the work you have done for the people and for giving those of us on the land a voice! Something we haven't had in a long time!"

Asked about Zinke's letter, the Interior Department said it was unable to comment on matters unrelated to the partial government shutdown.

Zinke is latest among several Trump appointees who've left amid ethics concerns. This also includes former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price and former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin.

Former Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt stepped down in July after questions emerged about his spending on security, travel and a $43,000 soundproof phone booth, NPR reports.

Pruitt also spent $1,560 on a dozen customized fountain pens, The Washington Post reported.

One reader pointed to that story and asked whether perhaps Zinke used one of those pens. "It doesn't write worth &$%¥," she panned.

Trump has not named a permanent replacement for Zinke. NPR reports that the acting secretary, David Bernhardt, is a former lobbyist for the oil industry who has also held several positions at the Department of the Interior.

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