‘UGH!’: Zinke’s wife’s travel caused headaches for Interior staff

Source:  politico.com

Newly released records shed light on the outsize profile Lola Zinke has established compared with the typical Cabinet secretary’s spouse.

Secretary Ryan Zinke bringing his wife Lola along on official trips isn’t illegal as long as the government doesn’t pay for her expenses. | Jim Watson/AFP/Getty Images

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s wife has frustrated department staffers by saddling them with extra work when she traveled with him on official business, according to new records that a liberal watchdog group says uncover the potential misuse of government resources.

The records document Lola Zinke’s last-minute requests to join high-level dinners and additions to the guest list for a conservative group’s event near their home in Southern California earlier this year. The Western Values Project filed a Freedom of Information Act lawsuit last month to force Interior to release more than 100 pages of documents related to Lola Zinke’s trips with her husband and interactions with Interior staff.

Shared first with POLITICO, the documents shed new light on the outsize profile Lola Zinke has established compared with the typical Cabinet secretary’s spouse, including her dictating people to invite to a town hall hosted by the conservative Young America’s Foundation for her husband.

New emails also reveal a celebratory dinner the Zinkes attended that was organized in part by a major GOP donor who gave heavily to Ryan Zinke’s congressional campaigns. And they show Interior staffers had to accommodate a last-minute request for her to join the secretary at an official dinner with Alaska’s governor. The records cover two trips Lola Zinke joined in the first three months of her husband’s tenure as well as some other interactions with Interior staff, such as coordinating her attendance at a White House briefing for Cabinet members’ spouses.

While the department says Lola Zinke paid her own way, the records show Interior used staff time to coordinate some of her activities while traveling with her husband. And the trips gave her access to high-level politicians and GOP activists and donors who could benefit her as a political operator in her own right.

“These emails show that the leadership at the Department of Interior treats basic ethical standards like an inconvenience,” Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger said. “If Secretary Zinke is willing to be so sloppy with something as elementary as this, then God only knows how they’re handling big decisions about energy and public lands behind closed doors.”