Quantcast

Interior Department Watchdog: Zinke Family Travel Violated Department Policies

Politics
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. William Campbell / Corbis / Getty Images

The internal watchdog of the Department of the Interior (DOI) concluded Thursday that Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated department travel policies by having his family members ride in government vehicles, The Hill reported.


The report, by the DOI's Office of Inspector General (OIG) also confirmed that Zinke and his wife Lolita cost taxpayers more than $25,000 when they travelled through Greece and Turkey with a Park Police security detail, though there were no policies against them doing so.

"Being exposed for abusing his power to rip-off the taxpayer while benefiting himself provides all the proof that should be needed to fire Ryan Zinke," Sierra Club Executive Director Michael Brune said in a statement following the report.

Zinke has been a controversial Interior Secretary because of his pro-oil and gas drilling stance and his dubious ethical behavior, including a conflict of interest with oil-giant Halliburton. There are three other investigations underway within the DOI into his actions in office, The Guardian reported.

The report found that Zinke had brought his wife with him on department boat travel, with a sign off from the DOI's solicitor general's office, but that on other occasions the Zinke family had reimbursed the DOI for family travel. It also found that Zinke's staff looked into making Lolita a volunteer, apparently in order to get around travel restrictions, though Zinke denies that was the reason. She was not eventually given volunteer status.

The report further found that Zinke took non-government guests on a National Park Service boat through the Channel Islands in California, including two who had hosted a fundraiser for Zinke's 2014 Congressional bid and one whose family had owned property in the islands. At the time, they were classified as "stakeholders," so weren't asked to reimburse the department, but ethics officials at the time were not aware of their ties to Zinke's campaign or the land they were viewing, The Hill reported.

Interior spokesperson Heather Swift said the report largely showed that Zinke had not done anything wrong.

"The Inspector General report proves what we have known all along: the secretary follows all relevant laws and regulations and that all of his travel was reviewed and approved by career ethics officials and solicitors prior to travel," she said.

But the Sierra Club cast doubt on that interpretation, saying that Zinke was merely shifting the blame.

"Even Scott Pruitt resigned before he could be fired, but Zinke doesn't even have that sense of decency," Brune said. Zinke is selling-out our public lands to corporate polluters, using his power to enrich himself, and ripping off the public by wasting their tax dollars. It's time Donald Trump fires Ryan Zinke, not give him a chance to engage in a Washington cover-up."

The report came the same day that Interior officials denied reports from Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) that a Trump appointee from HUD, Suzanne Israel Tufts, was headed to DOI to lead the Inspector General's Office, The Hill reported.

Good government advocates had worried that a political appointee could interfere with the integrity of the investigations into Zinke currently underway.

"Why replace an acting Inspector General with a political appointee who has no government oversight experience?" Director of Public Policy with the Project on Government Oversight Elizabeth Hempowicz asked The Washington Post.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

In this picture taken on June 4, an Indian boatman walks amid boats on the dried bed of a lake at Nalsarovar Bird Sanctuary, on the eve of World Environment Day. Sam Panthaky / AFP / Getty Images

By Julia Conley

Nearly 50 people died on Saturday in one Indian state as record-breaking heatwaves across the country have caused an increasingly desperate situation.

Read More Show Less
A man carries a poster in New York City during the second annual nationwide March For Science on April 14, 2018. Kena Betancur / Getty Images

By Will J. Grant

In an ideal world, people would look at issues with a clear focus only on the facts. But in the real world, we know that doesn't happen often.

People often look at issues through the prism of their own particular political identity — and have probably always done so.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored

YinYang / E+ / Getty Images

In a blow to the Trump administration, the Supreme Court ruled Monday to uphold a Virginia ban on mining uranium, Reuters reported.

Read More Show Less
Ragú Old World Style Traditional is one of three flavors named in a voluntary recall. Mike Mozart / CC BY 2.0

Spaghetti with plastic sauce? That's what you might be eating if you pour one of three flavors of Ragú sauce over your pasta.

Mizkan America, the food company that owns Ragú, announced Saturday that it was voluntarily recalling some Chunky Tomato Garlic & Onion, Old World Style Traditional and Old World Style Meat sauces because they might be contaminated with plastic fragments, The Today Show reported.

Read More Show Less
A butterfly in the National Butterfly Center, a private sanctuary for butterflies in southern Texas, on Jan. 22. Maren Hennemuth / picture alliance / Getty Images

While Trump's border wall has yet to be completed, the threat it poses to pollinators is already felt, according to the National Butterfly Center in Mission, Texas, as reported by Transmission & Distribution World.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
People crossing the Brooklyn Bridge on July 20, 2017 in New York City sought to shield themselves from the sun as the temperature reached 93 degrees. Drew Angerer / Getty Images

by Jordan Davidson

Taking action to stop the mercury from rising is a matter of life and death in the U.S., according to a new study published in the journal Science Advances.

Read More Show Less
Salmon fry before being released just outside San Francisco Bay. Jim Wilson / The New York Times / Redux

By Alisa Opar

For Chinook salmon, the urge to return home and spawn isn't just strong — it's imperative. And for the first time in more than 65 years, at least 23 fish that migrated as juveniles from California's San Joaquin River and into the Pacific Ocean have heeded that call and returned as adults during the annual spring run.

Read More Show Less
AnnaPustynnikova / iStock / Getty Images

By Kerri-Ann Jennings, MS, RD

Shiitake mushrooms are one of the most popular mushrooms worldwide.

Read More Show Less