Fires

Zinke says Trump behind him ’100 percent’ after ‘vicious attacks’

Ryan Zinke speaks out about California wildfires

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke speaks at a press conference about the November California wildfires.
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U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke speaks at a press conference about the November California wildfires.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, facing an ethics probe over land dealings, insisted Wednesday he still has President Donald Trump’s full support.

Zinke, after touring the damage from the deadly Camp Fire in Paradise with Gov. Jerry Brown, also told The Sacramento Bee he has no recollection of meeting in 2017 with wealthy Sacramento land baron Angelo Tsakopoulos, as first reported by the Washington Post.

Zinke is being investigated on multiple fronts. In what is considered the most serious matter, the Interior Department’s acting inspector general has referred to the Justice Department an investigation into whether the former Montana congressman acted improperly in connection with a land deal in Whitefish, Mont., with the head of oil-services conglomerate Halliburton. As secretary, Zinke oversees oil and gas drilling operations on federal lands.

Last week, Trump said he wouldn’t fire Zinke but said, “I’m going to look into any complaints,” according to a Post account.

In an interview with The Bee, Zinke said: “The allegations get more outrageous. ... I follow all rules, regulations, procedures and most importantly the law. I talk to the president, he understands. These are vicious attacks.”

Zinke said the president backs him “100 percent.”

The Post also reported that Zinke agreed to meet last year with Tsakopoulos, who regularly supports Democrats but has clashed with the federal government over his decision to plow wetlands south of Sacramento to plant wine grapes in the early 2000s.

A Tsakopoulos spokeswoman told the Post that the developer actually sent a representative to meet with Zinke.

Zinke told The Bee he doesn’t recall the meeting but added: “If they’re American, if they pay their taxes, if they have an issue with the Department of Interior, likely I will meet with them or somebody at Interior because that’s what I do.”

U.S. Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke talks about how to prevent large fires like the Camp Fire on Wednesday, Nov. 15, 2018, in Chico.

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