Documents released from a Freedom of Information Act request show that Interior Department employees were forced to spend some of their staff hours coordinating travel for Lolita Zinke, wife of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, when she accompanied him on government business trips.
According to a report by Politico, the liberal watchdog Western Values Project acquired more than 100 documents from their FOIA request. Those documents “shed new light on the outsize profile Lola Zinke has established compared with the typical Cabinet secretary’s spouse” amid investigations into the Interior secretary’s allegedly inappropriate travel.
The documents show multiple instances in which Zinke, who is herself involved in conservative politics, accompanied her husband on trips and tours, including a last-minute request that she attend an official dinner with Alaska’s governor. According to emails obtained through the FOIA request, Interior staffers only found out about her attendance at the dinner — and her plans to stay longer than originally expected — second-hand through an aide to Sen. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), who was also on the trip.
“I have heard that Mrs. Zinke was now maybe not going to fly out from Fairbanks Sunday morning … so, I asked Annie if she happened to talk to Mrs. Zinke about her plans. She said Mrs. Zinke said she was now going to head to Byers Lake and Anchorage with RKZ and fly out of Anchorage on Tuesday,” Director of Scheduling and Advance Russell Roddy wrote in an email to colleagues.
“UGH!” Roddy continued. “We have all kinds of planes, trains and automobiles manifests to now scramble with.”
Though the Interior department maintains that Lola Zinke pays for her own travel, government affairs lobbyist Craig Holman told Politico that spousal travel often sends the wrong message — especially if the spouse pays their own way.
“Spousal travel, especially when paid for by the spouse, suggests that the trip may have less to do with official duties and more resembles a family vacation partially paid for by taxpayers,” Holman said.