US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, facing federal investigations into his travel, political activity and potential conflicts of interest, would be leaving the US administration at year’s end, US President Donald Trump said on Saturday.
In his resignation letter, obtained by The Associated Press, Zinke said “vicious and politically motivated attacks” against him had “created an unfortunate distraction” in fulfilling the agency’s mission.
Trump, in tweeting Zinke’s departure, said the former Montana congressman “accomplished much during his tenure” and that a replacement would be announced next week.
The Cabinet post requires US Senate confirmation.
Zinke is leaving weeks before Democrats take control of the US House of Representatives, a shift in power that promises to sharpen the probes into his conduct.
His departure came amid a staff shake-up as Trump heads into his third year in office facing increased legal exposure due to intensifying investigations into his campaign, business, foundation and administration.
Zinke’s resignation letter, obtained from a Zinke aide, cites what he calls “meritless and false claims” and says that “to some, truth no longer matters.”
The letter, dated Saturday, said Zinke’s last day would be Jan. 2.
It was not clear whether Zinke had already submitted the letter when Trump tweeted.
Zinke, 57, played a leading part in Trump’s efforts to roll back federal environmental regulations and promote domestic energy development.
He drew attention from his first day on the job, when he mounted a roan gelding to ride across Washington’s National Mall to the US Department of the Interior.
Zinke had remained an ardent promoter of both missions and his own macho image, despite growing talk that he had lost Trump’s favor.
On Tuesday, Zinke appeared on stage at a US Environmental Protection Agency ceremony for a rollback on water regulations.
Mentioning his background as a US Navy SEAL at least twice, he led the audience in a round of applause for the US oil and gas industry.
Trump never established a deep personal connection with Zinke, but appreciated how he stood tall against criticisms from environmental groups as he worked to roll back protections.
However, the White House has concluded that Zinke was likely the Cabinet member most vulnerable to investigations led by newly empowered Democrats in the US Congress, according to a Trump administration official not authorized to publicly discuss personnel matters who spoke on condition of anonymity.
His tenure was temporarily extended as the department helped with the response to California wildfires and the West Wing was consumed with speculation over the future of former White House chief of staff John Kelly.