Interior Secretary Zinke accuses House Dem of ‘drunken and hostile behavior’ after call to resign

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke ripped into Arizona Democratic Rep. Raúl Grijalva on Friday and accused him of past “drunken and hostile behavior” after the lawmaker called for the Cabinet member’s resignation earlier in the day.

In a remarkably scathing Twitter post, Zinke referenced past news reports that Grijalva in 2015 paid a female aide on Capitol Hill nearly $50,000 in a taxpayer-funded settlement after she complained about his drinking and office environment.

“It is hard for him to think straight from the bottom of the bottle,” Zinke said of Grijalva. “This is coming from a man who used nearly $50,000 in tax dollars as hush money to cover up his drunken and hostile behavior. He should resign and pay back the taxpayers for the hush money and the tens of thousands of dollars he forced my department to spend investigating unfounded allegations.”

Zinke also tweeted “#TuneInnForMore,” an apparent reference to the Tune Inn, a popular Capitol Hill bar Grijalva has been known to frequent.

Zinke’s comments appear to be in response to a USA Today op-ed written by Grijalva on Friday headlined, “Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke must resign. His multiple scandals show he's unfit to serve.” Grijalva is the ranking member of the House Committee on Natural Resources, and says he hopes to serve as chairman when Democrats retake the majority in January.

“Ryan Zinke needs to resign immediately as Secretary of the Interior,” Grijalva wrote. “I take no pleasure in calling for this step, and I have resisted it even as questions have grown about Mr. Zinke’s ethical and managerial failings. Unfortunately, his conduct in office and President Donald Trump’s neglect in setting ethical standards for his own cabinet have made it unavoidable.”

Later Friday, Grijalva responded to Zinke's accusations.

"The allegations against Secretary Zinke are credible and serious," he said. "Instead of addressing the substantive issues raised in this morning’s op-ed, he's resorting to personal attacks."

Grijalva spokesman Adam Sarvana added in a statement to Fox News: "Rep. Grijalva does not work while drunk and does not create a hostile workplace environment.”

Through his committee work, Grijalva has raised ethics questions about Zinke, including over his role in a land development project in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Mont. In his op-ed Friday, Grijalva said that “scrutiny will only intensify if I'm chairman.”

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“As ranking member, I have sent dozens of unanswered letters seeking information about Interior Department policies and Mr. Zinke’s conduct,” he said. “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.”

Appearing on “Fox News @ Night” on Thursday, Zinke lamented the ethics probes but insisted he has done nothing wrong.

“I am 10 for 10,” Zinke told host Shannon Bream. “I’ve been investigated on my socks. I’ve been investigated for taking jets, which I don’t. I’ve had 10 investigations completed and you know what they all say? Ryan Zinke follows all the rules, all the regulations, all the procedures.”

As for Grijalva, The Washington Times reported a year ago that an unnamed former congressional aide threatened a lawsuit against Grijalva by accusing him of being frequently drunk and fostering a hostile work environment.

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The House Employment Counsel negotiated a $48,395 severance – the equivalent of five months additional salary – for the aide, the report said. The accuser, who worked for Grijalva for three months, dropped her complaint after the settlement, the newspaper said.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., speaks during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing on Nov. 7, 2017.

Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Ariz., speaks during a House Committee on Natural Resources hearing on Nov. 7, 2017. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

In a statement at the time, Grijalva acknowledged a settlement had been paid to a former employee but did not discuss the details of what led to it.

“The fact is that an employee and I, working with the House Employment Counsel, mutually agreed on terms for a severance package, including an agreement that neither of us would talk about it publicly," Grijalva said. "The terms were consistent with House Ethics Committee guidance."

Grijalva said the severance funds came out of his "committee operating budget."

"Every step of the process was handled ethically and appropriately," he said.

But critics decried the Grijalva payout as another example of lawmakers being able to deal with complaints lodged against them by aides through secret settlements.

Fox News' Chad Pergram contributed to this report.