Democrats call for investigations into Zinke, National Park Service

The top Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee is calling for an investigation into whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated a federal law known as the Hatch Act as well as a separate inquiry into scientific integrity policy at the National Park Service, according to documents obtained by CNN.

In a letter dated dated April 5, 2018 to the US Office of the Special Counsel, Rep. Raul Grijalva, D-Arizona, asks for an investigation into whether Zinke broke the act when he traveled Florida to hold a press event with Florida GOP Gov. Rick Scott to announce he would exempt Florida from the new plans to expand offshore drilling off the US coast.

Scott has been tapped as a possible Republican Senate candidate, and critics suggested the move was politically motivated.

In the letter, Grijalva and Rep. Donald McEachin write that while the event in question “involved matters related to (Interior’s) work, several facts may signify that the real reason for holding the event was to further Rick Scott’s campaign and not to advance the Department’s mission.”

Interior spokeswoman Faith Vander Voort said in a statement to CNN that, “The Secretary works closely with career ethics officials and lawyers at all times to ensure that his conduct complies completely with all laws, rules, and regulations.”

The Hatch Act is a 1939 federal law intended to limit federal employees from participating in certain political activities. CNN reported in March that it exists as a workplace guideline and violations of it do not constitute a crime.

The US Office of Special Counsel is an entity unrelated to Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation into Russian interference in the 2016 election.

In a second request, Grijalva and other House Democrats sent a letter on Thursday to Mary Kendall at the Department of Interior’s Office of Inspector General asking for “an investigation into the effectiveness of the scientific integrity policy at the National Park Service and whether it is being adequately enforced.”

The inspector general’s office told CNN they had received the letter and are “reviewing the request.”

The letter references a recent report from Reveal, a nonprofit investigative journalism outlet, which claimed that “National Park Service officials have deleted every mention of humans’ role in causing climate change in drafts of a long-awaited report on sea level rise and storm surge.”

​​​​​The Interior Department did not immediately return a request for comment on the second letter.