Interior Dept. Whistleblower Resigns, Leaving Shady W.H. Accusations In His Wake

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Over the last few days, there has been a lot of drama in the news involving the Interior Department, especially regarding reports that have surfaced about some of Secretary Ryan Zinke’s spending habits. In addition to being under investigation for his use of private and military planes for business travel, Zinke has also been accused of unlawfully retaliating against a whistleblower who publicly disclosed information about how climate change is affecting Alaska’s Native communities.

The whistleblower, Joel Clement, resigned on Wednesday after Zinke reassigned him in June from a senior executive position to an accounting job for which he has no previous experience. Clement was among dozens of senior executives who were reassigned, but he was the only one to speak out about it.

The Interior department’s inspector general is now looking into the reassignments to determine whether or not the process was legal.

According to The Washington Post, executives, under the law, must be given “ample notice” of a job switch before it happens. Many of those who were reassigned have said that they did not receive any notice.

Clement is now the second reassigned Interior employee to have resigned.

He told WaPo in an interview on Wednesday that he felt that keeping the accounting job for which he had no experience was “cheating the taxpayers.” He added:

‘I would feel just guilty stringing them along…as they tried to turn me into an audit specialist.’

Clement also said that he’s now focused on working towards getting Zinke out of his current position:

‘Keeping my voice is more important than keeping my job. I have not found another job yet. I have vast contacts inside the agency and outside. I do believe I can be a strong voice to resisting what the Zinke team is doing.’

In his resignation letter, Clement explained his reasoning for whistleblowing as follows:

‘I blew the whistle on the Trump administration because I believe you unlawfully retaliated against me for disclosing the perilous impacts of climate change upon Alaska Native communities and for working to help get them out of harm’s way.’

He also accused both Zinke and President Trump of poor leadership.

‘Retaliating against civil servants for raising health and safety concerns is unlawful, but there are many items to add to your resume of failure.’

Some of these “items” included waging an “all-out assault on the civil service by muzzling scientists and policy experts,” conducting an “arbitrary and sloppy review of our treasured National Monuments to score political points,” compromising “tribal sovereignty by limiting programs meant to serve Indians and Alaska Natives,” and undercutting the “important work to protect the western sage grouse and its habitat.”

Clement’s resignation letter comes just a few days after Zinke delivered a speech questioning the loyalty of several members of his department.

Since Zinke made those remarks, former top Interior executives who served under Presidents Richard Nixon, Gerald Ford, George H.W. Bush, Bill Clinton, George W. Bush, and Barack Obama have released a letter condemning his comments.

Featured image via Alex Wong/Getty Images.