Attorney General Jeff Sessions — who allegedly involved himself in the effort to oust former FBI director James B. Comey with a false pretext, repeatedly misled the Senate on his Russia contacts, supported the noxious Muslim ban, has demonized illegal immigrants for a nonexistent crime wave (thereby justifying a war on so-called sanctuary cities) and reversed a promise made to senators when he decided to reactivate enforcement of marijuana laws against ordinary users — is arguably the most dangerous and malicious member of the president’s Cabinet. (Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price took himself out of the running when he was forced to leave after misuse of private charter planes.) Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin comes close — getting the “most resembles a cartoon villain” award and also drawing scrutiny for use of government planes — but at least has not drawn the attention of the special counsel or set out to deprive people of their constitutional rights.
However, coming in a close second to Sessions is Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke — and not because he has decreed that a flag should be raised whenever he’s in the building. Consider the following:
He allegedly threatened Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska) with retribution if she did not vote for the GOP health-care bill. (“The Alaska Dispatch News on Thursday reported that Zinke had called Senators Lisa Murkowski and Dan Sullivan, both Republicans, on Wednesday. He warned them that Murkowski’s vote on Tuesday against a motion to begin debate on the healthcare overhaul could have negative consequences for energy and land use in Alaska, the newspaper said. Murkowski’s no vote forced Vice President Mike Pence to cast a tie-breaking vote to pass the motion by a 51-50 ballot.”)
He could face investigation over his use of a helicopter, diverting funds from wildfire funds. (“An Oregon lawmaker is asking the Interior Department’s inspector general to look into whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke wrongly tapped into a wildfire-fighting fund to take a helicopter tour of Nevada last year. Senator Ron Wyden is making the request following a Newsweek investigation that discovered how the Department of the Interior had discussed billing a wildfire preparedness fund for Zinke’s use of a chartered helicopter on a trip that did not take Zinke to a wildfire zone, but did include a press conference.”) This was apparently not a one-time occurrence. (“Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent more than $14,000 on government helicopters this summer to take himself and staff to and from official events near Washington, D.C., in order to accommodate his attendance at a swearing-in ceremony for his replacement in Congress and a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence, according to previously undisclosed official travel documents.”)
He pushed for a dramatic reversal in offshore drilling policy, then accommodated the request from Rick Scott, the GOP governor of Florida (where the president’s Mar-a-Lago resort is located) for a special carve-out. “Make no mistake about it, Ryan Zinke’s decision — if true — to remove Florida from the draft offshore drilling plan was a purely political move to aid the ambitions of Rick Scott,” said the Sierra Club’s Florida director Frank Jackalone. “Had Zinke cared about the wishes of coastal communities or how drilling off their coasts will affect them, he would have proposed a plan that shrinks drilling even further, not proposed expanding operations to nearly every corner of our waters.”
Lawmakers and governors of other states were outraged. Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Calif.) tweeted, “Taking Florida off the table for offshore drilling but not California violates the legal standard of arbitrary and capricious agency action. California and other coastal states also rely on our beautiful coasts for tourism and our economy. I believe courts will strike this down.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) and Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan (R) both cried foul as well, as did Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker (R). South Carolina politicians of both parties blasted the move, according to Business Insider:
Democratic North Carolina Gov. Roy Cooper also blasted the turnaround, retweeting a video from the Interior Department in which Zinke announced the move with Scott, adding: “Is this thing on? I’ll try again: Not Off Our Coast – RC.” … [Republican] Gov. Henry McMaster of South Carolina, who endorsed Trump in his run for president back in January 2016, said that he did not support the offshore drilling decision.
“I am opposed to offshore drilling off South Carolina’s shore, I’m opposed to seismic testing off South Carolina’s shore,” McMaster told reporters. “Our tourism industry and glorious natural resources are beyond compare in the United States, they are a source of enormous economic growth and prosperity and we cannot take a chance with those resources, those industries, and that economy.” …
GOP Rep. Mark Sanford, whose [districts] include parts of coastal South Carolina including Charleston, also derided the Florida exemption in an interview with CNN.
“If we can exempt Florida, based on as Secretary Zinke put it ‘an unusually high degree of tourism reliance,’ well then the same certainly ought to exist for South Carolina,” Sanford said. When asked if the exemption for Florida was a political favor for Scott, Sanford said “it certainly looks, smells, and feels that way.”
In other words, his decision is a model of ideological extremism tempered by partisan favoritism. In that sense, I suppose he’s the “perfect” Cabinet official for this president.