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Group sues Interior Dept. for Lola Zinke travel records - KPAX.com | Continuous News | Missoula & Western Montana

Group sues Interior Dept. for Lola Zinke travel records

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A government transparency group is suing the Interior Department, seeking records of any money spent on travel for the wife of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke.

American Oversight claims Lola Zinke "has played an unusually prominent role" at the department, including joining her husband "extensively on his official travel."

The left-leaning group says Interior has not provided records it requested through the Freedom of Information Act four months ago. The group is demanding travel and other records for Lola Zinke, including "receipts for any expenditures made by the Department of Interior" for "travel, or any other expense."

It specifically asked about her presence on two of her husband's work trips: one to California in April and another to Alaska, Norway and Greenland in May with lawmakers.

The group said it wants to know "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." The lawsuit was filed with the US District Court for the District of Columbia Circuit.

CNN has asked the Interior Department for detailed travel information on the Zinkes' travel. Spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email: "The Interior Department under the Trump administration has always and will always work to ensure all officials follow appropriate rules and regulations when traveling, including seeking commercial options at all times appropriate and feasible, to ensure the efficient use of government resources."

Interior said Mrs. Zinke was one of many spouses invited on the trip to Alaska, Greenland and Norway, which was organized by the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee. The agency told CNN it "is standard for those trips" to include spouses and that Mrs. Zinke paid her own way.  The agency did not say how much she reimbursed the government.

The lawsuit comes days after the inspector general of the Interior Department announced a review of Secretary Zinke's use of government and charter aircraft.

Along with the Interior IG, the Office of Special Counsel is looking into whether a speech the secretary traveled to give to a political donor's hockey team was a violation of the law. At least four other investigations are underway into travel by Cabinet members.

One of the six resulted in a report by the Treasury Department inspector general Thursday that said no laws were broken but that the department and White House cut corners in gathering justification for Secretary Steve Mnuchin's travel on government planes.

Government and charter jets cost taxpayers many times more than a comparable seat on a commercial aircraft, but can sometimes be justified due to security concerns, scheduling needs, or the lack of commercial air travel. Previous administrations, for example, have justified charter flights in remote areas of Alaska.

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