U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke unleashed a scathing personal attack Friday against a congressman who had called on him to resign, accusing the Arizona Democrat of drunkenness and using taxpayer money to cover up inappropriate behavior.
Zinke sent his tweet after Rep. Raul Grijalva wrote an opinion column, published in USA Today on Friday, saying that Zinke must resign because of what Grijalva called “ethical and managerial failings.”
“It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke tweeted. “This is coming from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior. He should resign and pay back the taxpayer for the hush money and the tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spend investigating unfounded allegations.”
The tweet also included the hashtag #TuneInnForMore, a reference to a legendary Washington, D.C., dive bar frequented by Grijalva.
Zinke’s extraordinary accusations are aimed at the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, who is seeking to head the panel once Democrats take control of the House in January. The committee oversees Zinke’s Interior Department, and the back-and-forth on Friday sets a sharp tone for their relationship if Grijalva becomes chairman.
Grijalva released a statement in response to Zinke’s tweet that did not directly address the Interior secretary’s accusations.
“The American people know who I’m here to serve, and they know in whose interests I’m acting,” Grijalva said. “They don’t know the same about Secretary Zinke.”
Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
Zinke’s comment on “hush money” is a reference to news reports last year about a settlement between Grijalva and a former staffer who accused him of being drunk and creating a hostile work environment. Grijalva acknowledged last year that a new employee had left his staff and that he’d signed a nondisclosure agreement preventing him from discussing the details.
His spokesman, Adam Sarvana, repeated what Grijalva said then in defending the congressman on Friday.
“He’s not drunk at work. He doesn’t slur his words on the floor,” Sarvana said, referring to the House floor. “He doesn’t create a hostile work environment.”
In Friday’s column, Grijalva questioned Zinke’s fitness to serve as Interior secretary amid multiple investigations into allegations of wrongdoing by him and his department. The congressman specifically mentioned the Interior Department inspector general’s referral to the Justice Department of an investigation into a land deal between the chairman of the energy services company Halliburton and a foundation that Zinke created in his hometown of Whitefish, Montana.
Zinke has denied any wrongdoing in the deal with David Lesar, whose company does significant business with Zinke’s agency.
Grijalva also accused Zinke of driving out senior staffers in the agency, administering policies that benefit energy companies and “dumbing down” science, particularly when it comes to the effects of climate change.
“As ranking member, I have sent dozens of unanswered letters seeking information about Interior Department policies and Mr. Zinke’s conduct,” Grijalva wrote. “Should I chair the committee in January, as I hope to do, those questions will only intensify as part of my and my colleagues’ legitimate oversight duties.”
House Democratic Leader Nancy Pelosi responded to Zinke on Twitter: “We couldn’t have a clearer contrast with the values-based leadership of @RepRaulGrijalva to protect the planet for our children than @SecretaryZinke’s toxic, special interest agenda.”
The head of a conservation group that frequently criticizes Zinke called the secretary’s tweet “a new low.”
“It’s also foolish to pick a fight with a member of Congress who will soon have oversight and subpoena power over your agency,” said Center for Western Priorities executive director Jennifer Rokala.