WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his boss, President Donald Trump, moved Friday to tamp down talk that Zinke might be the next Trump administration official to go.
The 57-year-old former Montana congressman has pushed to develop oil, natural gas and coal beneath public lands in line with the administration’s business-friendly aims. But Zinke has been dogged by ethics probes, including one centered on a Montana land deal involving a foundation he created and the chairman of an energy services company that does business with Interior.
Trump’s long-anticipated ouster this week of Attorney General Jeff Sessions seemed to make good on expectations that Trump would shake up the ranks of officials after Tuesday’s midterms. Trump told reporters Wednesday he might reach some resolution about Zinke in about a week.
Asked outright by reporters Friday if he would fire Zinke, however, Trump said, “No, I’m going to look into any complaints.”
Speaking Friday to a radio station in Montana, Zinke dismissed reports he already was hunting for his next job.
“I think I’m probably going to be the commander of space command,” Zinke said. “How’s that one?”
“I enjoy working for the president,” Zinke added. “Now, if you do your job, he supports you.”
In an email, Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said Zinke was “denying in strongest possible terms” any plans to leave.
Zinke has denied wrongdoing, and his lawyer said Zinke has not been notified of any Justice Department investigation. Two sources told AP earlier that the Interior Office of Inspector General referred an investigation of Zinke to Justice, signaling a potential escalation amid a series of inquiries into Zinke’s conduct.
Investigators are also reviewing Zinke’s decision to block two tribes from opening a casino in Connecticut and his redrawing of boundaries to shrink a Utah national monument.
Matt Volz in Helena, Montana, contributed to this report.