Monday, May 14, 2018
Trump vs. the “Deep State”: How the Administration’s loyalists are quietly reshaping American governance.
This is a long article that covers the gamut on personnel issues. Excerpted below is the part about Zinke and the Dept. of Interior:
...One of Trump’s most ardent lieutenants is Ryan Zinke. Six feet two, with broad shoulders and a cleft chin, Zinke is a fifth-generation Montanan who was recruited as a linebacker at the University of Oregon and spent twenty-three years in the Navy SEALs. In 2008, he entered politics, in the Montana State Senate. After one term in Congress, he was appointed Secretary of the Interior, and arrived for his first day of work on horseback, riding down C Street in a ten-gallon hat and jeans. Since then, Zinke has attracted attention mostly for his zealous embrace of Trump’s energy agenda. He has opened up America’s coasts to offshore oil and gas drilling; overturned a moratorium on new leases for coal mines on public land; and recommended shrinking national monuments in Utah by two million acres, the largest reduction of protected lands in American history.
Within the department, Zinke has adopted the President’s approach to expertise, loyalty, and dissent. In April, 2017, a scientist named Joel Clement, the director of the department’s Office of Policy Analysis, visited Zinke for a briefing. He noticed that Zinke had redecorated the office with a grizzly bear, mounted on its hind legs, and a collection of knives. Zinke has no professional experience in geology, but he routinely describes himself as a “geologist,” because he majored in geology in college. (In a 2016 memoir, “American Commander,” Zinke wrote that he chose it by “randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog.”) “He doesn’t read briefing materials,” Clement told me. “He comes over and sits down, and he says, ‘O.K., what are we here for?’ ” To keep Zinke’s attention, staff hewed to subjects related to his personal experience. “I briefed him on invasive species,” Clement said. “It was one issue where it looked like we might actually get a little traction, because in Montana they had just discovered mussels that could really screw up the agricultural economy.” The strategy failed. “He didn’t understand what we were talking about. He started talking about other species—ravens and coyotes. He was filling the intellectual vacuum with nonsense. It’s amazing that he has such confidence, given his level of ignorance.”
A couple of months later, Zinke ordered the involuntary reassignment of dozens of the department’s most senior civil servants. Clement, who had been his agency’s public face on issues related to climate change, was assigned to the accounting office that handles royalty checks for oil and gas and coal extraction. His new job had no duties and appeared on no organizational chart. Clement filed a whistle-blower complaint; he believed that his post was retaliation for speaking about the dangers that climate change poses to Alaska Native communities. In October, he quit. “I really didn’t feel like I had a choice,” he told me. “I wanted to keep my voice more than I wanted to keep the job.” In a resignation letter, Clement accused Zinke and Trump of having “waged an all-out assault on the civil service by muzzling scientists and policy experts.” (A department spokesperson declined to comment for this article, citing “loaded and flat-out false information.”)
Like his Commander-in-Chief, Zinke makes no secret of his distrust. “I got thirty per cent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” he said, in September, to an advisory board dominated by oil and gas executives. He likened his leadership of the department to capturing a ship at sea, and vowed to prevail over resistant employees. Zinke’s comment drew a rebuke from fifteen former Interior appointees, in Republican and Democratic Administrations, who appealed to him to let public servants “do their jobs without fear of retaliation on political grounds.” In a private mutiny, some of his staff printed T-shirts that read “30% DISLOYAL” and took to calling themselves “the disloyals.”
One of the department’s largest divisions, the Bureau of Land Management, has distributed plastic badges, called “vision cards,” for employees to wear, bearing an image of an oil rig on one side and cattle ranchers on the other. The bureau said they are not mandatory, but an employee told me, “If you’re not wearing them, I think management in some places looks at you like maybe you’re not loyal to the flag.” Under Zinke, the employee said, policy debate has dried up: “We’re supposed to provide back-and-forth perspective, so that you make the best decision based on science and based on the law. But that’s a pretty big struggle right now.” The employee went on, “I hunt and fish—I’m actually kind of a redneck. But I believe in the public good and public land. When Trump talks his b.s. about the ‘deep state,’ that’s who he’s referring to. I totally reject that kind of characterization. That’s how these guys see it: if you’re not a tool of the most high-powered lobbyists in Washington or following orders, then they really don’t want you around.”
Zinke has also adopted the White House’s preoccupation with quashing unflattering information. In April, 2017, he came under criticism after internal memos were leaked, revealing his intention to roll back protections on public land. To prevent that from happening again, Matthew Allen, the B.L.M.’s communications director, was ordered to stop the leaks. Allen pointed out that very little of Interior’s work is classified. “I can’t stop these leaks, because I don’t have the resources or the authority,” he said. “I don’t think it’s legal.”
Last fall, Trump appointees in the department became frustrated by bad press over efforts to expand mining and drilling, and by Freedom of Information Act requests that sought details of their contacts with powerful industries. Allen received another order: send FOIA requests about political appointees to the subjects themselves before releasing the results to the public. He was taken aback. “It was just a blatant conflict of interest,” he said. “The person who may be under suspicion, that they’re requesting records on, is going to be an approval authority in the chain. That just doesn’t seem O.K.”
After another leak, Allen was turkey-farmed—reassigned to the Bureau of Safety and Environmental Enforcement, in a newly created position with no staff and no responsibilities. Allen filed a complaint with the Office of Special Counsel. “I did not swear an oath to Ryan Zinke, Donald Trump, or any other person,” he told me. “My oath is to the Constitution. I work for the American people. I still feel like I am helping to uphold the Constitution, even if it’s by insuring the First Amendment by having this conversation.”
In one agency after another, I encountered a pattern: on controversial issues, the Administration is often not writing down potentially damaging information. After members of Congress requested details on Carson’s decorating expenses, Marcus Smallwood, the departmental-records officer at HUD, wrote an open letter to Carson, saying, “I do not have confidence that HUD can truthfully provide the evidence being requested by the House Oversight Committee because there has been a concerted effort to stop email traffic regarding these matters.” At the Department of the Interior, the Inspector General’s office investigated Zinke’s travel expenses but was stymied by “absent or incomplete documentation” that would “distinguish between personal, political, and official travel.” According to Ruch, of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility, when environmentalists filed suit to discover if industry lobbyists had influenced a report on Superfund sites, they were told, “There are no minutes, no work product, no materials.” Ruch added, “The task-force report was a product of immaculate conception.” He believes that the Administration is “deliberately avoiding creating records.”