Internal watchdog report: Interior secretary Ryan Zinke broke agency policy with wife's travel

The Department of Interior Inspector General found that Secretary Ryan Zinke and his wife violated policy fo...

Posted: Oct 19, 2018 10:18 AM
Updated: Oct 19, 2018 10:18 AM

The Department of Interior Inspector General found that Secretary Ryan Zinke and his wife violated policy for government travel and he considered making his wife a volunteer which would have allowed her to travel for free, according to a new report.

The investigation into Zinke's alleged abuse of position found the secretary broke agency policy when his wife traveled with him in federal vehicles. The report also stated Zinke considered trying to get around agency rules by making her a volunteer at the agency, which would have entitled her to travel for free with him on the taxpayers' dime. Zinke denies that his intention was to skirt government rules for reimbursement for travel, and the report states the Zinkes reimbursed the government for Lola Zinke's travel in Interior Department vehicles when required.

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"We determined that, despite a DOI policy prohibiting non-Government employees from riding in Government vehicles, the DOI Office of the Solicitor's Division of General Law approved Lola Zinke and other individuals to ride in Government vehicles with Secretary Zinke, " the report said.

According to the IG report, Zinke asked Department of Interior employees to research "the legal and ethical implications of making Lola Zinke an official DOI volunteer." Had his wife been considered an Interior volunteer, she would not have to reimburse the government for traveling with her husband.

Specifically, Interior employees discussed designating Lola Zinke as a volunteer ombudsman for military service members, an issue of interest to the secretary, who speaks often of his own military service. According to the report, some Interior employees involved in the discussions said they felt some pressure from other Interior officials to make it happen, but raised concerns that it was wrong.

"We're spending taxpayer dollars trying to figure out if she can be a volunteer so that he [Zinke] doesn't have to pay [reimbursement for her riding in Government vehicles]," one said, per the report.

The report stated, "Ultimately, the employees advised him that making her a volunteer could be perceived negatively, and she did not become one."

David L. Bernhardt, the deputy secretary of the Department of Interior sent a memorandum to Mary L. Kendall, the deputy inspector general, in reaction to the report. "For the allegations regarding a spouse accompanying the Secretary in a Department of the Interior vehicle, the determination you reached is unsurprising," he wrote.

Bernhardt defended Zinke in the memorandum, obtained by CNN, and writes the Division of General Law told the secretary that it was permissible for his spouse to occasionally accompany him in a departmental vehicle even though that went against the general department vehicle policy.

"Since this longstanding legal advice and Secretarial practice were inconsistent with the Department's general motor vehicle policy, either the written policy or the practice should have been changed long before now," Bernhardt writes.

Bernhardt also writes in July the department modified its "Motor Vehicle Management Handbook" and adds, "Going forward, there should be no inconsistency between the written policy and the Department's practice regarding travel in Departmental vehicles."

The Department has "engaged in an aggressive and consistent effort to enhance the ethics program," Bernhardt writes, adding the department has added several employees to the ethics team.

Among the watchdog's other findings was that two former campaign donors invited and traveled with Zinke on a boat trip to the Channel Islands in southern California. Zinke told the IG he was sure this information had been shared with the ethics office that the two individuals were previous congressional campaign donors but ethics officials told investigators they were not aware.

Zinke is one of many in the Trump administration dogged by headlines of misuse of government funds and resources.

This latest report comes as questions have surfaced over who will lead the watchdog agency.

While the inspector general post has been vacant since 2011, Mary Kendall has led the office since 2009 as the deputy inspector general.

But, in an email sent last week, Housing Secretary Ben Carson bid "a fond farewell" to HUD Assistant Secretary Suzanne Israel Tufts, announcing she had "decided to leave HUD to become the Acting Inspector General at the Department of Interior."

The appointment of a political official as the acting inspector general was seen within the government watchdog community as highly unusual. But, Interior Spokeswoman Heather Swift said Thursday that Carson had sent the announcement with false information in it and that Kendall was " still the Deputy Inspector General at the Department of the Interior."

Mississippi Coronavirus Cases

Data is updated nightly.

Cases: 512632

Reported Deaths: 10262
CountyCasesDeaths
Harrison34853555
DeSoto33162432
Hinds32556641
Jackson24830389
Rankin22442402
Lee16238242
Madison14874283
Jones14086247
Forrest13741259
Lauderdale12249324
Lowndes11286193
Lamar10644140
Pearl River9707244
Lafayette8827143
Hancock7835132
Washington7550169
Oktibbeha7204138
Monroe6989179
Pontotoc6970109
Warren6849178
Panola6746134
Neshoba6726210
Marshall6653141
Bolivar6440151
Union633897
Pike5924156
Alcorn5862107
Lincoln5525136
George510180
Prentiss500884
Tippah490282
Itawamba4829107
Scott477499
Adams4766125
Tate4748116
Leflore4723144
Copiah455895
Yazoo455591
Simpson4543117
Wayne442772
Covington432895
Sunflower4299106
Marion4265112
Coahoma4227109
Leake413790
Newton395581
Tishomingo381793
Grenada3775109
Stone365666
Jasper340166
Attala337790
Winston317792
Chickasaw313367
Clay311878
Clarke301195
Calhoun284449
Holmes271289
Smith268952
Yalobusha243747
Tallahatchie231453
Greene224749
Walthall221366
Lawrence217840
Perry213356
Amite209557
Webster205148
Noxubee188642
Montgomery181557
Carroll174441
Jefferson Davis173643
Tunica163239
Benton152639
Kemper144941
Choctaw136527
Claiborne134238
Humphreys131139
Franklin124929
Quitman107528
Wilkinson105939
Jefferson96834
Sharkey65121
Issaquena1957
Unassigned00

Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 845108

Reported Deaths: 16115
CountyCasesDeaths
Jefferson1161242006
Mobile741961379
Madison53291732
Shelby38328368
Baldwin38074589
Tuscaloosa36017641
Montgomery34483781
Lee25557263
Calhoun22585518
Morgan22454406
Etowah20016517
Marshall18781316
Houston17729425
St. Clair16880358
Limestone16138218
Cullman16050303
Elmore15904294
Lauderdale14984306
Talladega14191299
DeKalb12971269
Walker12029380
Blount10715192
Autauga10517157
Jackson10161194
Coffee9415192
Colbert9341208
Dale9018191
Tallapoosa7255201
Russell707865
Chilton7018170
Escambia6955143
Covington6933195
Franklin6342108
Chambers5784142
Marion5403130
Dallas5285209
Pike5118109
Clarke484986
Lawrence4826129
Winston4780110
Geneva4642136
Bibb434094
Barbour369480
Butler3434100
Marengo342393
Monroe337066
Randolph334367
Pickens333188
Fayette330085
Henry320666
Hale318389
Cherokee317763
Crenshaw260477
Washington257052
Cleburne254460
Lamar251453
Clay250869
Macon244764
Conecuh192862
Coosa185047
Lowndes178168
Wilcox177438
Bullock152645
Perry141840
Sumter139241
Greene130245
Choctaw93228
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