Interior Department spokeswoman calls CNN reporter 'a f**king idiot' for doing her job

WASHINGTON — The lead spokesperson for the Interior Department labeled a CNN reporter with a vulgar insult after being pressed to answer questions about Secretary Ryan Zinke’s travel, emails released as part of a public records request show. 

“Rene is a f**king idiot,” agency spokeswoman Heather Swift wrote to one of her colleagues, referring to CNN correspondent Rene Marsh.

“She sounds like one,” responded deputy director of communications Russell Newell.

SCREENSHOT/DEPARTMENT OF THE INTERIOR

The insult stemmed from an Oct. 3 inquiry in which Marsh asked the agency’s press team several follow-up questions about Zinke’s trip in June to Las Vegas, where he met with the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, and other taxpayer-funded flights. Swift promptly replied to say that she was “checking into this.”  

The following day, Marsh emailed again to ask when she could expect a response. Swift didn’t answer, prompting Marsh to follow up again on Oct. 5. Swift told her that she was “working on it” but that “the person who handles the Secretary’s travel is currently out of the office so it’s taking a little longer than usual.”

On Oct. 6, Marsh sent two more emails to the agency’s press team. In the second she wrote: “We have repeatedly asked the press office for answers to the below questions and for 4 days now we have been told you are working on it and today we’ve received no response at all. We are asking questions that the public has every right to know as these are their tax dollars and for Interior not answer any of the below questions is really hard to understand. Is the DOI issuing a no comment on all of the below questions?”

Interior finally sent a response that evening but failed to answer several of Marsh’s specific questions. Emails show that Marsh again insisted that the Department of the Interior provide answers. 

Later that evening, Newell emailed his colleague Swift a draft of an email he was considering sending to Marsh in which he planned to question the reporter about whether she’d asked previous interior secretaries such questions.

“I was about to send this to Rene but I’ll send to you instead and maybe it will make me feel better,” Newell wrote to Swift. “Just had to get it off my chest. The double standard is nauseating.” 

On Oct. 12, Marsh co-authored an article for CNN headlined “Zinke’s Travel Continues to Raise Ethical Questions.”

The Department of the Interior and Marsh did not immediately respond to HuffPost’s requests for comment. 

The Vegas trip is among those that have come under scrutiny. On June 26, Zinke and several staffers chartered an oil company plane for a flight from Las Vegas to Montana, costing taxpayers $12,375, as Politico first reported.

Zinke’s use of private planes at taxpayers’ expense — a controversy he’s shrugged off as “a little BS” — is being investigated by the Interior Department’s Office of the Inspector General. The watchdog office is expected to release its final report next week, according to CNN.

Additionally, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating Zinke’s speech to the Vegas hockey team, which is owned by Bill Foley, a donor of Zinke’s congressional campaigns.

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KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke talks to the media during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke rides a boat to Georges Island, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston Harbor, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is interviewed by Reuters, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (L) high fives National Park Service Ranger Beth Jackendoff on his National Monuments review visiting sites around Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke waits to take the stage with President Donald Trump for his on infrastructure improvements, at the Department of Transportation in Washington, U.S. June 9, 2017. REUTERS/Jonathan Ernst
U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (C) talks to National Park Service Rangers, while traveling for his National Monuments Review process, in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., June 16, 2017. Picture taken June 16, 2017. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Ryan Zinke visits SiriusXM Studios on September 12, 2017 in New York City. (Photo by Santiago Felipe/Getty Images)
SHANKSVILLE, PA - SEPTEMBER 10: Visitors listen to US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke at the groundbreaking of the Tower Of Voices at the Flight 93 National Memorial on the 16th Anniversary ceremony of the September 11th terrorist attacks, September 10, 2017 in Shanksville, PA. United Airlines Flight 93 crashed into a field outside Shanksville, PA with 40 passengers and 4 hijackers aboard on September 11, 2001. (Photo by Jeff Swensen/Getty Images)
WASHINGTON, DC - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing on Capitol Hill, on June 20, 2017 in Washington, DC. The committee heard testimony on U.S. President Donald Trump's proposed FY2018 budget request for the Interior Department. (Photo by Mark Wilson/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
KATAHDIN WOODS AND WATERS NATIONAL MONUMENT, ME - JUNE 14: With Mount Katahdin in the background, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, left, talks with Lucas St. Clair, right, during a tour of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. Zinke was touring the monument because it is one of dozens of monuments up for review under an executive order from President Trump. St. Clair's family gifted the land for the monument. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - JUNE 20: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing in Dirksen Building on the department's FY2018 budget request on June 20, 2017. (Photo By Tom Williams/CQ Roll Call)
MILLINOCKET, ME - JUNE 15: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke speaks with members of the Katahdin Chamber of Commerce and Millinocket town council during a breakfast at Twin Pines Lodge in Millinocket on Thursday, June 14, 2017. Zinke is in Maine for a review of the Katahdin Woods & Waters National Monument, one of over two dozen reviews ordered by President Trump. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Portland Press Herald via Getty Images)
US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke listens while US President Donald Trump speaks at the US Department of Transportation June 9, 2017 in Washington, DC. Trump visit of the Transportation Department is part of a White House push to overhaul America's infrastructure. / AFP PHOTO / Brendan Smialowski (Photo credit should read BRENDAN SMIALOWSKI/AFP/Getty Images)
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