President Donald Trump’s nominee for secretary of the Interior, Ryan Zinke, has been dogged by allegations of misconduct for his time at the Interior Department.
But as the Trump administration’s new president, Zinke has the power to take the reins of the agency.
So far, he hasn’t.
On Tuesday, Zinek’s confirmation hearings got underway.
A panel of Democrats on the committee, led by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), asked Zinke if he would consider removing the “unethical” designation for Zinke from the bureau’s website, and if he agreed to reinstate the “highly unethical” designation.
Zinke responded that he would.
“I believe the President is going to make that decision,” Zinke said.
“We have been through some tough times in the Interior department.
And we will be through some harder times in this administration.”
Zinke then went on to say that the only way the Trump team would be able to fix the department’s culture was by appointing a new director.
And he suggested that he could make that happen, if he wanted to.
“It’s not just my department.
It’s the entire Interior Department, and I can’t imagine what we’re going to do if we don’t have the right person at the right time to do the job,” he said.
But, as NPR’s Scott Detrow reported, Zinki has yet to make a statement to the Senate committee.
The committee is now looking at Zinke’s past and present behavior as a public servant.
Zinkel has served as Interior’s top law enforcement officer since 2013.
In that capacity, he’s also the former head of the Bureau of Land Management.
He also served as the deputy secretary for the Interior’s Office of Law Enforcement and Homeland Security during the Obama administration.
Zinckes past is an open question, but his public history is more complicated.
According to his public financial disclosure forms, he earned $924,890 from 2011 to 2016.
He’s also paid more than $4.6 million in federal income taxes over the years.
In his past, he has not been convicted of any crime, and he has never been sued over his past actions.
He served as an assistant to then-President Joe Biden during the 2016 election.
Biden’s campaign did not respond to a request for comment.
But his son, Beau Biden, who was serving as a spokesman for the president, issued a statement saying that Zinke “has been a dedicated public servant who served our country and its citizens with honor and distinction for more than three decades.”
He added that Zinckis commitment to the department is “unmatched” by any other public official in history.
“This nomination has nothing to do with Joe Biden’s administration.
This nomination is solely about the work we’re doing at the agency,” Beau Biden said.
Zinki’s past has also raised questions about the potential conflicts of interest that may arise if he becomes Interior’s new secretary.
As a lawyer, he was paid more for representing the coal industry than any other government employee.
But he also served on the Trump campaign’s transition team.
As NPR’s Sarah Kliff reported, he served as a liaison between Trump’s transition and the Interior industry during the transition period.
“Zinke’s involvement in the transition team during that time could have potentially conflicted with his duties as head of a federal agency,” Kliff wrote.
He then explained that the Interior agency “must remain independent and accountable to Congress and the American people.”
Zinck’s past also came up during his confirmation hearings.
During the hearings, he testified that he had been asked by Interior to conduct an investigation into the Department of the Army’s use of a controversial chemical that caused the deaths of at least 1,200 people in Vietnam.
“When I was a lawyer I was asked by the Department to look into this chemical and find out what it was that had been used,” he testified.
Zinko denied the request.
But the investigation was eventually completed and the Department said it “conducted an independent review of the use of this chemical.”
Zinks past as an attorney was also a subject of scrutiny earlier this year.
He was a key player in the unsuccessful attempt by Democrats to block the nomination of former President Joe Biden, whom they said had used his political connections to get Zinke on the shortlist for the position of Interior secretary.
Zinkis nomination to the post of Interior’s acting secretary comes after the White House has been criticized for its handling of the Flint water crisis.
The administration and the Michigan governor have both claimed that the city of Flint used lead paint to repair pipes.
But when the state began using Flint water in the spring of 2015, the city was drinking water that contained toxic levels of the chemical.
In February, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) confirmed that lead was present in the city’s drinking water.
The state has since taken the lead out of the water, but the Centers