Before he resigned as Interior secretary in the winter of 2018 over the usual stew of Trump-administration ethics violations, Ryan Zinke was tight with the president. Improbably, the self-styled Marlboro Man from Montana, who fancied cowboy hats and fishing gear, and the Queens-born commander in chief, who never removes his tie or makeup and who hates hunting, had a lot in common.
They both suffered Putin-esque crises of masculinity. Zinke showed up for his first day on the job in Washington on the back of an Irish sport horse named Tonto. (And would later spend $6,250 of taxpayer money on a helicopter in order to go riding with Mike Pence.) Trump just had a “Dear Leader” military parade in the capital.
The self-styled Marlboro Man from Montana, who sported cowboy hats and fishing gear.
They both embellished their credentials. Zinke claimed to be a geologist when in fact he merely studied the subject in college 35 years ago, as he wrote in his autobiography: “I studied geology as a result of closing my eyes and randomly pointing to a major from the academic catalog.” Trump lied for decades about his business acumen and wealth.
They both compared themselves to beloved former presidents: Zinke to Teddy Roosevelt, Trump to Abraham Lincoln.
Most importantly, Trump’s satrap at Interior was unquestionably obeisant. One June headline in The Hill neatly summed up the relationship: “Federal Investigators concluded Ryan Zinke’s MAGA socks violated Hatch Act.”
That’s why it was a real gas when Zinke’s most Trump-like move—a murky real-estate deal—ultimately ran him afoul of the boss. The byzantine deal in Whitefish, Montana, involved Zinke’s wife, Lolita; a parking lot; a micro-brewery; and the oil-services behemoth Halliburton. Even though Dick Cheney would have totally gotten away with it, the deal became a spur in Zinke’s side, leading to his resignation.
“Federal Investigators concluded Ryan Zinke’s MAGA socks violated Hatch Act.”
But unlike Trump, the guy has a hell of a work ethic. Since resigning just eight months ago, Zinke has parlayed his experience tapping America’s natural resources and shrinking her national monuments into a ton of sweet side hustles (though nothing as cool as Sean Spicer’s upcoming role on Dancing with the Stars).
Zinke’s now set to collect a $90,000 consulting fee from a Nevada gold-mining firm and advises a Texas pipeline supplier and a Houston-based oil-and-gas company. Miraculously, the frontiersman managed to become the managing director of a cyber-security and blockchain company. He also linked up with Turnberry Solutions, a Washington lobbying firm that shares a name with one of Donald’s golf courses and has proven a reliable landing pad for Trumpian lackeys such as Corey Lewandowski. In July, Zinke led a group of lobbyists on a business trip to Turkey. (Lolita got some really great Instagram shots out of it.)
He now collects a $90,000 consulting fee from a Nevada gold-mining firm.
As if that weren’t enough, Zinke’s already contemplating his next career move. “The President didn’t want me to leave,” he told the Houston Chronicle’s James Osborne in a recent interview. “I may or may not go back into the administration at a later time.”
The revolving door between government and corporate interest is spinning fast these days. You might say it’s galloping. Giddy up!
Shawn McCreesh is a reporter based in Washington, D.C.