Whatever Ryan Zinke's Wife Lola Wants, Lola Gets
Looks like grifty Ryan Zinke won't have his butt saved from ethics investigations by a political hack after all. Earlier this week, news broke that a political appointee from Housing and Urban Development would be installed as the Inspector General at Zinke's Interior department, which smelled like a pretty obvious cover-up even by the lax standards of this administration.
But last night, Interior Department officials said no, heavens, they certainly hadn't put the lady who approved Ben Carson's dinette set in charge of the IG's office, and please disregard that email from Ben Carson wishing her luck in her new job. Heh-heh, what a silly idea! It was a well-timed walkback, since the acting IG who's been leading four investigations into Zinke released a report finding that Zinke and Interior staff had approved government-funded travel for Zinke's wife, Lola, violating standing Interior department policy. No big, really, since Zinke later changed the policy so family members could ride along with no reimbursement to the government. Just change the ethics rules and you're suddenly ethical as fuck!
It's not yet clear who decided to suddenly reverse course on the attempt to install Suzanne Israel Tufts as the new inspector general at Interior. Tufts has no experience in either the Interior Department or running investigations, but she did work on the Trump campaign before landing at HUD as an "Assistant Secretary for Administration," and was a loyal functionary, so why not put her in the job? After all, the actual IG position has been vacant for a decade, and Congress never got around to approving Barack Obama's nominee for the job, Mary Kendall, who has been acting IG for nine freaking years. Since Tufts had already been confirmed by the Senate to her HUD job, she could be conveniently swapped in as acting IG at Interior without any additional hearings, and isn't that just a dandy way to make four investigations go away?
Looks like the outrage over that move actually shamed somebody, somewhere, into reversing the decision. Since this administration routinely avoids official announcements, it was easy enough to play this off as all a big misunderstanding, aw shucks. The move to smother the Zinke investigations only came to light when Ben Carson sent an email titled "fond farewell" to HUD staff, congratulating Tufts on her new job as acting IG at Interior. So why not portray that as simply a little mistake on Carson's part?
It sure looks like a coordinated attempt to back away from the embarrassing publicity: Some "top White House officials" told the Washington Post Thursday they hadn't been informed of the move, and Interior Department spokesperson Heather Swift issued a statement clarifying that nothing of the sort had happened. If a press release could sigh heavily, roll its eyes, and harrumph, this would be it:
"Ms. Tufts is not employed by the Department and no decision was ever made to move her to Interior," Swift said in a statement Thursday.
And in a striking public rebuke of another Cabinet agency led by a close friend of Zinke's, Swift wrote that HUD "sent out an email that had 100 percent false information in it." She affirmed that Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall, who has led the office for nine years, is still in the job.
Nothing like a little inter-departmental backstabbing, we say. Swift went on to say, yeah, sure, the White House had referred Tufts as a "potential candidate" for an unspecified job with the inspector general's office, but nahhh, "At the end of the day, she was not offered a job at Interior." Nothing to see here, OK? We would never, ever do anything unethical, no no no.
Which brings us to that report on Zinke's travel grifting; Politico has the poop on that. The report found Ryan Zinke sent Interior staffers off to research whether giving Lola Zinke a "volunteer" position in the department would allow her to accompany him on trips at taxpayer expense. It also found Interior had paid $25,000 for a security detail to guard the Zinkes while they vacationed in Turkey, because that's one dangerous place. WaPo adds the report also
found that the secretary had invited two individuals who had hosted a fundraiser for him when he served as a congressman to go on an official trip to California's Channel Islands, at government expense, and had not notified Interior lawyers about the fact that they were former political contributors.
Is that a problem? Why wouldn't campaign donors get some special love? That's what winning is all about, no?
Some top Interior officials interviewed for the report said that while there was a policy barring spouses of Interior employees from going along with them in government vehicles, that policy didn't necessary apply to the head dude at the agency, blessings be upon him:
"This was also the opinion of Deputy Interior Secretary David Bernhardt, who said the policy applied to DOI employees but not necessarily to a Secretary," the report continues. "He also said this was a policy a Secretary could change 'with the stroke of a pen.''"
Zinke insisted in the report that he had cleared bringing family along on official trips with ethics people, although it sure sounds like the advice was equivocal at best:
An employee in the DOI solicitors office said she "routinely advised Secretary Zinke's schedulers that it would be "cleanest" and "lowest risk" if Lola did not ride with him, but she also told schedulers that she could justify her riding in a government vehicle because Zinke could not use a personal vehicle for travel. She said that the schedulers and Zinke "want her in the car."
Not surprisingly, despite the report's having identified several moves Zinke took to skirt and even change the rules, Interior spokesperson Swift was pretty swift to proclaim the report completely cleared Zinke, and that
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 [...] Additionally, the secretary received the same exact legal advice from the solicitors as previous secretaries and he acted consistently. The report even said so.
Which is a pretty creative way to read we told him he probably shouldn't but he really wanted to, so he did, and he said it was fine, and please let's not make a big deal about free travel for donors, OK?
In other news, how about that scary caravan of immigrants, shouldn't you reporters be more worried about that?
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Doktor Zoom's real name is Marty Kelley, and he lives in the wilds of Boise, Idaho. He is not a medical doctor, but does have a real PhD in Rhetoric. You should definitely donate some money to this little mommyblog where he has finally found acceptance and cat pictures. He is on maternity leave until 2033. Here is his Twitter, also. His quest to avoid prolixity is not going so great.