Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s wife, Lolita Zinke, sent Interior Department staffers scrambling this year with two separate requests regarding travel plans with her husband on official trips, according to documents published Monday.
The travel itineraries and emails were obtained through a Freedom of Information act lawsuit filed by the Western Values Project and were first reported on by Politico. The documents were subsequently published by the Washington Post.
The documents confirm that Lolita Zinke accompanied her husband on at least two official trips, one to Norway and Alaska in May, and another to California in April. The department’s inspector general last week told Interior officials that they did not properly document the secretary’s travel and complained that the watchdog had been unable to determine which trips Lolita Zinke attended with the secretary.
Ryan Zinke, as well as other cabinet leaders, has come under scrutiny for his use of private and military planes to fly within the U.S. and abroad. Zinke has attended personal and political events during some of the trips for which he used a non-commercial plane, including attending a meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, which is owned by a major donor to Zinke’s 2014 congressional campaign.
In May, staffers learned that Lolita Zinke would be staying in Alaska longer than expected and would join her husband for dinner with Gov. Bill Walker. Zinke offered to pay for his wife’s meal at the dinner, per the emails. The documents also indicate that staffers had to scramble at the last minute to accommodate the last-minute change in travel plans.
“We spent the whole day finalizing everything… and now all shot to hell,” one staffer wrote in an email upon hearing the change in Lolita Zinke’s plans.
The change in plans for Zinke’s wife came after a staffer warned that she would likely not be able to fly back to Washington, D.C., on a military plane if she was not accompanied by her husband, and would then need to fly commercial, the emails show.
Emails also show that Lolita Zinke helped craft the guest list of invitees to a Young America’s Foundation town hall at the Reagan Ranch in Santa Barbara, California, during the secretary’s April trip to California.