American Oversight today sued the Department of the Interior (DOI) to force the release of records related to Lolita Zinke, wife of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, and her role at the department, use of taxpayer-funded travel, and participation in official meetings or other events.
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of the Montana-based Western Values Project which submitted the initial Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests seeking the records.
“Time and again we’ve seen how personal relationships and political loyalty trump competency in the current administration, and it appears the Department of the Interior is no different,” said American Oversight Executive Director Austin Evers. “We’re suing the Department of the Interior to uncover the truth about what role Secretary Zinke’s wife is playing in running the department, how much it’s costing taxpayers, and why she was jetting off to Europe with her husband on a military plane.”
“Under Secretary Zinke’s leadership the Department of Interior has turned into a front group for special interests,” said Chris Saeger, Executive Director of the Western Values Project. “We filed this FOIA because there should be transparency and accountability for everyone who influences Interior’s decisions. If Lola Zinke is playing a role at Interior, taxpayers deserve to know if she is playing by the same rules as everyone else who works there.”
Lolita Zinke has reportedly joined her husband extensively on his official travel – including on a military plane to Norway, Greenland, and Alaska – and has played an unusually prominent role at the Department of the Interior for the spouse of a cabinet secretary. On October 2nd, DOI’s Inspector General announced it was opening an investigation into travel by Secretary Zinke.
The lawsuit is part of American Oversight’s broader investigation into Secretary Zinke’s management of DOI – including his government-funded travel, involvement in relaxing standards for toxic chemicals, and meetings related to the construction of President Trump’s border wall. On Wednesday, American Oversight submitted an additional FOIA request seeking further details about Lolita Zinke’s presence and activities at DOI.
In early June, the Western Values Project submitted FOIA requests to DOI asking for records, communications and documents related to Lolita Zinke’s role in the department, including her participation in internal meetings, presence on official trips, and emails sent be her in relation to government business. DOI failed to adequately respond to the FOIA requests as required by law, and American Oversight filed suit today on behalf of the Western Values Project in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia to force the release of relevant documents.
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