Trump speaks with Secretary Zinke at a White House event. Photo: Al Drago / Bloomberg via Getty Images

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke went “rogue,” per one source. And President Trump isn’t happy about it.

Two weeks ago, Zinke made an announcement that surprised the White House (and over Twitter, no less, after telling reporters at the Tallahassee airport): the waters around Florida would be exempt from his agency’s offshore oil and gas leasing program. Zinke’s announcement came shortly after he met with the state’s Republican governor, Rick Scott.

Trump has made clear to Zinke that he’s angry about this move, according to two sources with direct knowledge. Zinke's decision is both legally and politically dangerous for the Trump administration. Zinke did not coordinate with anybody, and gave the White House no forewarning of his controversial action.

Trump specifically asked Zinke in the Jan. 10 cabinet meeting about the drilling decision, according to three sources with direct knowledge. That exchange was not contentious.

Zinke has put the administration in a sticky situation for three reasons, according to former Interior Department officials who talked to Axios’ Amy Harder:

  1. The department’s offshore leasing policies are guided by a strict process set by statute that can only take certain areas out of consideration gradually through a multi-year process that specifically weighs various factors, like environmental risks and oil and gas resource potential. By tweeting Florida would be removed just days after announcing the offshore leasing plan, and without considering any of those factors, Zinke didn’t follow the statute. That opens the administration to legal risk.
  2. Environmental groups and attorneys general from other coastal states will likely use the move to justify suing the federal government, arguing it was arbitrary and capricious to remove Florida but not other coastal states.
  3. Zinke’s move is targeting the waters with the richest oil and gas resources: the Eastern Gulf of Mexico next to Florida. This undercuts Trump’s energy dominance agenda. For that reason, former officials of the agency predict the department will try to find a way to include at least portions of it in the final plan.

“Is it legally fatal? No, but it’s so clumsy,” said one former Interior Department official. “It’s unforced errors and creates problems that’s got him [Zinke] tied up in knots.”

Zinke built a lot of goodwill with Trump before this mistake. Trump personally likes him, and they bonded immediately, according to sources who've watched them together. Trump admires Zinke for his service as a Navy SEAL commander, and has praised Zinke's deregulatory work. Trump even consulted Zinke about his Afghanistan war strategy.

Bottom line: Multiple sources tell me it would be a massive stretch to say this incident has ruined Zinke's relationship with Trump. There's nothing irreparable here, though the incident has damaged Zinke's standing in the administration.

Go deeper: Read Amy’s recent Harder Line column on this and another recent energy stumble of the Trump administration.

For more great news and analysis in your inbox each day, be sure to sign up for Jonathan Swan's Sneak Peek and Axios' other newsletters.

Go deeper

"Anonymous" senior Trump official revealed as ex-DHS chief of staff Miles Taylor

Miles Taylor in a Republican Voters Against Trump ad. Screenshot via YouTube

Former Department of Homeland Security chief of staff Miles Taylor on Wednesday publicly claimed to be the author of the anonymous New York Times op-ed that described a "resistance" within the Trump administration working to thwart President Trump's agenda.

Why it matters: Taylor already publicly endorsed Joe Biden in a video funded by Republican Voters Against Trump in August, accusing the president of wanting to "exploit the Department of Homeland Security for his own political purposes and to fuel his own agenda."

Updated 1 hour ago - Politics & Policy

Coronavirus dashboard

Illustration: Sarah Grillo/Axios

  1. Politics: Biden ahead in Wisconsin, Michigan as cases surge in the Midwest.
  2. Health: Surge "is real" and not just caused by more tests, Trump's testing czar saysMask mandates help control rise in hospitalizations Some coronavirus survivors have "autoantibodies."
  3. Business: Surge is sinking consumer confidence Testing is a windfall.
  4. Media: Pandemic causes TV providers to lose the most subscribers ever.
  5. World: Germany to close bars and restaurants for a month Putin mandates face masks.

Parties trade election influence accusations at Big Tech hearing

Photo: Michael Reynolds/Pool/AFP via Getty Images

A Senate hearing Wednesday with Big Tech CEOs became the backdrop for Democrats and Republicans to swap accusations of inappropriate electioneering.

Why it matters: Once staid tech policy debates are quickly becoming a major focal point of American culture and political wars, as both parties fret about the impact of massive social networks being the new public square.