Lola Zinke and her husband, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, are seen with Colusa Brown, California's First Dog, on April 13, 2017. On that day, Lola Zinke accompanied her husband to the State Capitol in Sacramento, where the Secretary met with Gov. Jerry Brown (D). Photo: Lola Zinke

Secretary Zinke under renewed scrutiny for travel practices and role of spouse

Secretary Ryan Zinke is in charge of the Department of the Interior but he's blaming his predecessor as he faces scrutiny for his travel practices, including trips that involved his wife.

The Office of Inspector General is looking into Zinke's use of government and private planes. The investigation has been hindered by a lack of adequate documentation, according to department's top watchdog.

“Our investigation has been delayed by absent, or incomplete documentation for several pertinent trips and a review process that has failed to include proper documentation and accountability,” Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall wrote in a November 15 "management advisory" to Zinke's office.

But Zinke's top aide -- Deputy Secretary David Bernhardt -- isn't accepting responsibility for the lapses. Instead, he's blaming a "dysfunctional" system that he said was inherited from the Obama administration.

And rather than address Zinke's lack of documentation, he instead listed 12 instances in which he said former Secretary Sally Jewell -- who stepped down on January 20 -- didn't provide records for her travel.

“When I arrived at the department in August 2017, it was clear to me that the Secretary and I inherited an organizational and operational mess from the previous administration,” Bernhardt wrote in a November 16 response.

Bernhardt also did not commit to making any improvements despite Kendall's call for "prompt attention and changes" to the Secretary's records-keeping practices.

Lola Zinke is seen on the roof of the Department of the Interior's main building in Washington, D.C., on August 21, 2017, the day of the solar eclipse. Her husband, Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke, is standing behind her in the white shirt. Photo: Lola Zinke

But Bernhardt did promise to release more documents regarding Zinke's travel, which included his use of a private plane to get to his home in Montana in June. The trip cost taxpayers $12,375 and came after the Secretary delivered what has been billed as a motivational speech to a hockey team that's owned by a wealthy businessman who donated $199,523 to Zinke's congressional campaigns, POLITICO reported.

POLITICO has since reported on the role of Zinke's wife, Lola Zinke, in affecting the Secretary's travel schedule. According to documents obtained by the Western Values Project, her continued presence has caused additional work for Interior staffers

"UGH! We have all kinds of planes, trains and automobiles manifests to now scramble with," one staffer said in an email quoted by POLITICO after Lola Zinke decided to travel with her husband in Alaska.

The department has told news organizations that Lola Zinke pays for her own way on trips with her husband. But the Office of Inspector General is still asking for "complete documentation for all FY17 travel for the Secretary's wife when she accompanied him on official travel," Kendall wrote last week.

Lola Zinke is currently helping out on the campaign for Troy Downing, a Republican candidate for Senate in Montana. She frequently uses her Twitter account, which has relatively few followers, to promote his campaign, her husband's initiatives and President Donald Trump.

Zinke occasionally chines the news media and others for allegedly promoting "#FakeNews." One of her recent posts showed she was searching the internet for information about "ryan zinke monument review," another issue for which her husband has faced scrutiny.

"I'm Hispanic, get over it," she snapped back to one critic in an October 20 post. Her family immigrated to the United States from Peru.

Read More on the Story:
Interior watchdog says Zinke did not properly document his travel (The Hill November 16, 2017)
U.S. Interior Secretary fails to provide papers in travel probe: inspector (Reuters November 16, 2017)
Watchdog says Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke failed to properly document travel (The Washington Post November 16, 2017)
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke gave incomplete travel documentation, inspector general says (The Washington Examiner November 16, 2017)
Poor record-keeping hindering Zinke travel investigation, IG says (CNN November 16, 2017)
'UGH!': Zinke's wife's travel caused headaches for Interior staff (POLITICO November 20, 2017)
Ryan Zinke’s wife played a key role in his official event and travel planning, newly released records show (The Washington Post November 20, 2017)
Interior denies wrongdoing involving Zinke’s wife, travel (The Associated Press November 20, 2017)

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