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Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke To Step Down


The secretary of the interior, Ryan Zinke, is stepping down, adding to the list of top officials of the Trump administration to leave. The president tweeted the announcement today, saying that Mr. Zinke will leave at the end of the year. He's been facing mounting allegations of wrongdoing for months. NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith joins us. Tam, thanks for being with us.

TAMARA KEITH, BYLINE: You're welcome.

SIMON: Remind us, please, about some of the allegations facing Secretary Zinke because they have been building.

KEITH: They have. One Washington-based ethics watchdog tallied 17 different investigations and controversies around Zinke. The one everyone will be - will remember are the really expensive doors. The Interior Department apparently spent $139,000 to replace three sets of doors. But the bigger issues were related to whether he had travel or financial dealings that were unethical or that favored industry and somehow benefited himself. Those are ongoing. And there was a concern or a thought, a very real likely concern, that congressional Democrats were going to take those ethical quandaries a lot more seriously and would be investigating when Democrats took over the House.

SIMON: Yeah. So that might prompt the decision now in addition to any effect the president might want to have on the news cycle?

KEITH: Right. This is a case of - this is someone who has been in the headlines for all the wrong ways for a really long time. At least initially, you know, Zinke rode in - his first day on the job - rode in on a horse. And the president loved that. And he - you know, he was straight out of central casting - former Navy SEAL, former Montana congressman. But things have gone south with all of these negative headlines. And so...

SIMON: There was the land deal in Whitefish, Mont., for example.

KEITH: Yes, exactly. That involved his wife and a Halliburton chairman. And now Zinke's lawyer and spokesperson say nothing awry there. But these have been ongoing concerns. And so why now? Well, the midterms are over. The president said that there were going to be some shakeups. And I think more significantly, congressional Democrats were going to get subpoena power. And many of these investigations that had stalled with Republicans in control and the White House pushing back were going to get the power of subpoena behind them.

SIMON: Tam, is it correct to have the impression that there have been more departures than is usual after the first two years in an administration?

KEITH: That would be correct. So according to a tally kept by the Brookings Institution, Zinke would be the 10th member of Trump's cabinet to leave or change positions. That is a lot. And recent comparisons - after the first two years, and we aren't through with the first two years for Trump, Bill Clinton had six. George W. Bush only had one cabinet departure. And President Obama had four cabinet departures.

SIMON: And, of course, this comes just a few hours after the president announced a new acting chief of staff. And I emphasize the word acting because that's unusual.

KEITH: Yeah. So Mick Mulvaney is the head of the Office of Management and Budget. Until recently, he was also the acting head of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau but - which he wanted to destroy. But then a permanent head of that agency was confirmed. And so then he only had one job. Now he has two once again. He will be the acting chief of staff. According to the White House, he will do - he will only focus on chief of staff work. He will not do budget work. His deputy there will do that. But he will continue to be in that job - or both jobs. And presumably, the president will be looking for a more long-term chief of staff, though long term is all relative, especially in this administration.

SIMON: NPR White House correspondent Tamara Keith, thanks so much.

KEITH: You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Scott Simon is one of America's most admired writers and broadcasters. He is the host of Weekend Edition Saturday and is one of the hosts of NPR's morning news podcast Up First. He has reported from all fifty states, five continents, and ten wars, from El Salvador to Sarajevo to Afghanistan and Iraq. His books have chronicled character and characters, in war and peace, sports and art, tragedy and comedy.
Tamara Keith has been a White House correspondent for NPR since 2014 and co-hosts the NPR Politics Podcast, the top political news podcast in America. Keith has chronicled the Trump administration from day one, putting this unorthodox presidency in context for NPR listeners, from early morning tweets to executive orders and investigations. She covered the final two years of the Obama presidency, and during the 2016 presidential campaign she was assigned to cover Hillary Clinton. In 2018, Keith was elected to serve on the board of the White House Correspondents' Association.