Arizona congressman, Interior secretary trade jabs on social media
PHOENIX — An Arizona congressman and a member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet sparked a war of words Friday, with both officials calling on each other to step down.
The jabs between U.S. Rep. Raul Grijalva (D-Ariz.) and Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke began after Grijalva called on Zinke to resign due to his “ethical and managerial failings” in an opinion article.
Grijalva, who was re-elected earlier this month to his seat in Arizona’s 3rd Congressional District, also claimed in the piece that Zinke “is embroiled in scandals and nepotism.”
Zinke then responded in a tweet, accusing Grijalva of drunkenness and misusing taxpayer money.
“It’s hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke wrote from his official Twitter account.
“This is coming from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior,” the statement continued, referring to news reports last year about a $48,000 settlement between Grijalva and a former staffer who accused him of being drunk and creating a hostile work environment.
“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.”
Grijalva responded in a later statement, saying,”The American people know who I’m here to serve, and they know in whose interests I’m acting. They don’t know the same about Secretary Zinke.”
Grijalva is the top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, which oversees the Interior Department. He is seeking to head the panel once Democrats take control of the House in January.
Zinke spokeswoman Heather Swift didn’t immediately respond to a request for comment.
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.”
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.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.