Zinke & Russian Spy in End of Year Outdoor News

Then-congressional candidate Ryan Zinke in 2014.

In more normal times, the last couple weeks of the year have a slow news cycle. It’s convenient. We can do a re-hash of old stories, get done ahead of schedule and then concentrate on holiday parties and bowl games.

Not this year, especially regarding environment and firearms.

First, is the departure of former Montana congressman Ryan Zinke from his post as Secretary of the Department of Interior. The Trump Administration forced Zinke to resign by year’s end or be fired.

Almost from the beginning of his tenure, he has been plagued by repeated scandals, ranging from ordering a set of $139,000 doors for his office, to shuttling his wife, Lola, around D.C. in government vehicles, commandeering a Park Service helicopter to deliver him to a horseback ride with V.P. Mike Pence, and that’s just a start. He even had a flag created to fly over the department’s headquarters building so passersby would know whether or not he was in.

Then there were shady real estate dealings with the chairman of oil company Halliburton, which was formally referred to the Justice Department in October.

Zinke took a wrecking bar approach to the nation’s public lands, downsizing national monuments, particularly in Utah. Climate scientists were ordered to shut up about climate change, or face reassignment to meaningless jobs or reassignments. He also made it clear to mining and energy companies that the public lands were open for development, including public lands in our backyard of the Big Hole River.

All this from a person who claimed to be a public lands advocate in the mold of Theodore Roosevelt.

It’s hard telling what might be in Zinke’s future, as he carries the curse of being a Trump appointee, someone so corrupt that even Trump couldn’t stand the stink. Some observers speculate he’ll get a gig at Fox News. If he had thoughts of coming back home to run for governor in Montana, he’d likely be considered a gift to whomever Democrats nominate to succeed Steve Bullock.

Unfortunately, don’t look for any positive changes at Interior. Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt will be in charge at Interior until a new appointment is made. Bernhardt is an industry insider and politician who has been a power behind the scenes all along.

Zinke is leaving in style, however. Carol Leonnig of the Washington Post notes that he didn’t leave the job until he hosted a big holiday party for lobbyists, where they could have photographs taken with Zinke in front of a stuffed polar bear.

Maria Butina (Russian photo)

And, remember Maria Butina? She’s the pretty redhead from Russia who was arrested last July for being an unregistered agent of the Russian government, ending a high-flying ride in which she consorted with all manner of conservative politicians, especially bigwigs at the National Rifle Association.

She pleaded guilty in Federal court, admitting to seeking to establish and use “unofficial lines of communication with Americans having influence over U.S. politics” for the benefit of the Russian government.

While she was not part of the Mueller investigation, her activities seemed to coincide with other Russian efforts to bring “synergy” to the Trump campaign.

Washington Post columnist E. J. Dionne, Jr., speculates that NRA leaders are facing a lot of questions regarding Ms. Butina’s courting of the NRA, and whether the NRA’s surge in political spending in the 2016 election was tied to Russia.

Dionne also suggests that the NRA’s influence might now, finally, be waning. NRA’s political spending dropped during the 2018 election, along with the “blue wave” of Democrats elected to the House of Representatives. Dionne also reports that some suburban Republican candidates were even fearful of cashing checks from the NRA.

Still, I’ll pose the same question I asked months ago. Why aren’t NRA rank and file members storming the doors of the NRA headquarters building in Washington D.C., demanding the heads of NRA leaders who so eagerly and naively admitted a Russian spy to their innermost circles?

On a more positive note, there’s still time some last pheasant hunts before the season closes on January 1. Happy New Year!


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