Donald Trump’s Secretary of the Interior and sometime Santa Barbara resident Ryan Zinke confirmed what many have long considered a foregone conclusion by announcing his intention to resign by the year’s end. Zinke, a brash and outspoken proponent of the United States’ “global energy dominance” has found himself dogged by multiple investigations into potential ethical violations. While none of those investigations have yet to unearth a smoking gun, the number and intensity of such inquiries would increase dramatically when the new Democratic majority takes control of Congress.
Some of the ethical violations involve federal security details assigned to protect Zinke and his wife, Lola — born and bred in Santa Barbara — on family vacations. Others appear more troubling, such as the conflict of interest concerns raised about Zinke’s real estate partnership in a large development deal with the head of the Halliburton energy company in his home state of Montana. As Interior Secretary, Zinke has say over the mineral rights extracted from any of the 500 million acres of federally owned land his department oversees. Halliburton, as one of the nation’s largest oil-extraction supply companies, might stand to benefit from the sort of increased extraction Zinke has loudly championed.
Zinke has been a frequent visitor to Santa Barbara, having married Lola Hand, daughter of former prominent Santa Barbara business figure Fred Hand. When Zinke steps down, he’s likely to be succeeded by David Bernhardt, now the Interior Department’s second in command. In contrast to Zinke’s shoot-from-the-hip confrontational approach, Bernhardt is known for his quiet, almost studious approach coupled with a low-key affability.
Like Zinke, Bernhardt has a semi-indirect connection to Santa Barbara. When not serving in various Bush administrations, Bernhardt has been a powerful lobbyist with the law firm Brownstein Hyatt Farber Schreck LLP. That firm has offices in downtown Santa Barbara, where it has quietly but effectively represented some of the largest coastal landowners in the state, as well as California’s major water agencies. Principals with that firm have famously sparred with California Senator Dianne Feinstein over an especially controversial water project designed to tap into water from desert aquifers and transfer them to Orange County.
Zinke’s is only one of a handful of recent high-profile cases in which Santa Barbara is somehow linked to high-octane dramas unfolding within the White House of Donald Trump. Indeed it was the gruesome political assassination of Washington Post columnist Jamal Khashoggi — the most famous nephew of former but longtime Hope Ranch residents Essam and Layla Khashoggi — which all but certainly was ordered by Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammed bin Salman, that’s sparked the first and only instance of bipartisan outrage and uprising against the Trump Administration to date.
Shortly after pardoning two Thanksgiving turkeys, Trump famously cast a nonchalant eye on the murder, saying of the Crown Prince — believed by the CIA to have ordered the hit — “Maybe he did and maybe he didn’t.” Khashoggi was strangled and then chopped to pieces by a team of Saudi security officers with a bone saw. This week, the Senate voted unanimously to condemn the crown prince. It also voted 56 to 41 to oppose further funding of the Saudi war effort now in its second year against Yemen. That military campaign has been spearheaded by the crown prince and is believed by international relief agencies to have caused the death by starvation of 85,000 Yemeni children. The Saudi crown prince enjoys strong personal ties with Trump and members of his family.
Two weeks ago, the Santa Barbara Sheriff’s department received a complaint from two Santa Ynez Valley residents — Keith Munyan and J.D. Barrale — who’ve been described in the media as porn star Stormy Daniels’s two “gay dads,” alleging that Daniels’s husband had left a threatening and homophobic text message. Munyan and Barrale had been operating Daniels’s merchandizing website, selling T-shirts depicting a mostly unclad Daniels with the words “Don’t Make Me Spank You.” This is reportedly one of the things she said to President Trump when the two had their affair.
Trump’s personal attorney Michael Cohen was just sentenced to three years in prison, in part because he directed the payment of hush money to Daniels, reportedly at the behest of then-candidate Trump who was running for president. Cohen admitted paying Daniels to keep quiet — as well as $$150,000 to a former Playboy playmate as well — to keep the issue from intruding on Trump’s presidential campaign. Trump has argued the payments did not violate campaign-finance laws because they were not made in furtherance of his campaign, but to keep his wife from finding out about his extramarital sexual relations.
Daniels and her husband, Glendon Crain, had had a falling out with Daniels’s high-flying attorney Michael Avenatti and also, it turns out, with her two “gay dads” in the Santa Ynez Valley. One of the issues giving rise to this dispute was money and the accounting of finances. Daniels’s husband believed the two Santa Ynez residents were short-changing Daniels for revenues from merchandise sold online. That money, he stated in his text, should go to the couple’s daughter’s college fund. “Guess what … Now you’ve fucked with my daughters’ money. Which means you’ve now fucked with me … Rest assured I will get that 25,000 back that you two FAGGOTS decided to keep for no other reason to spite Stormy.”
In a brief telephone exchange, Munyan declined to discuss the matter further, explaining the couple was decidedly not looking for publicity. Spokespersons from the Sheriff’s Office confirmed receipt of the complaint but said the matter will likely go no further.