Statement on Interior Inspector General’s Report on Ryan and Lola Zinke’s misuse of taxpayer dollars

Oct 18, 2018

October 18, 2018

Updated analysis: Zinke is the subject of 18 open, closed, or requested investigations into his conduct

DENVER—In response to today’s reporting by The Washington Post on a report from the Interior Department Inspector General into improper use of government vehicles by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his wife Lola, the Center for Western Priorities released the following statement from Executive Director Jen Rokala:

“This report shows Secretary Zinke’s dogged determination to use his office for personal gain, even going so far as to tell Interior’s top lawyer to lie to the public to justify his wife’s travel. Taxpayers paid $25,000 to send a security detail along on a two-week romantic getaway. He booked a taxpayer-funded cruise to California’s Channel Islands, then claimed his friends and donors were ‘stakeholders’ so they could get a free ride. Secretary Zinke owes the American people an apology — and a refund.”

The report also quotes an ethics official who says Secretary Zinke told Acting Solicitor Daniel Jorjani to lie to reporters about his wife’s presence on official trips, falsely claiming she was an ombudsman for the department. Staff also raised concerns about how much time was being spent to justify Mrs. Zinke’s presence on official trips.

“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],” Interior ethics official Ed McDonnell said.

The OIG also determined that Zinke spent more than $13,000 in taxpayer money on challenge coins bearing his name and title.

The Center for Western Priorities today updated its ongoing count of investigations into Secretary Zinke, finding eighteen investigations by the Office of Inspector General and the Office of Special Counsel that have been opened or requested by members of Congress. With today’s report, nine of those investigations have been closed and at least five remain open, including the investigation into Secretary Zinke’s discussions with the chairman of Halliburton about a land deal in Zinke’s hometown of Whitefish, Montana.

Zinke’s investigation count now far exceeds his last four predecessors, who collectively were the subject of eleven OIG and OSC investigations. Earlier this week, the Trump administration moved to replace the Acting Interior Inspector General with a political appointee, despite Zinke being the subject of at least three open investigations at the OIG’s office. Late this afternoon, the Interior Department clumsily attempted to walk back the reassignment. Rokala added:

“During his confirmation hearing, Ryan Zinke promised ‘the most transparent Interior’ in his lifetime. Now we know he meant to say ‘the most transparently unethical.”


  • Zinke interviewed qualified candidates for Inspector General before choosing political operative [E&E News]
  • Interior watchdog opens probe of land deal linking Zinke, Halliburton chairman [Politico]
  • Watchdog slams Zinke for failing to document travel [Politico]
  • Latest Zinke calendars stripped of most details about his meetings [CNN]
  • Documents reveal Zinke uses a private email address for official business [Westwise]