Interior Sec. Zinke under fire for use of charter flights on taxpayer dime

Amid controversy swirling over former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s use of private charter and military aircraft, scrutiny for the same excessive behavior has now fallen on Interior Department Secretary Ryan Zinke.

Mr. Zinke admitted late last week to the use of private charter flights on three occasions, all three of which cost in excess of $20,000 in taxpayer funds.

According to some reports, Zinke was accompanied by his wife Lolita on some of the trips.

One of the three flights, in which Zinke traveled from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana, occurred in June and cost $12,375.  Zinke defended his June trip, saying no commercial flight was available after 8 p.m. the evening of his trip to Whitefish, Mont.

Responding to criticism of government excess, Zinke remarked the “taxpayers have a right to know official travel costs,” but dismissed attention drawn to his three flights as “a little BS over travel.”

Zinke is the fourth high-ranking Trump administration official revealed to have used private or military aircraft over commercial airlines for travel.

Joining Zinke for use of private charter or military aircraft are Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price.

In addition to Mr. Price using chartered flights, Mr. Mnuchin used a private aircraft for a trip to Kentucky; and Veterans Affairs director, David Shulkin, allegedly attended Wimbledon tennis matches and took a river cruise while on official business in Europe.

Mr. Price resigned on Friday over his use of private and military aircraft for official business, which a Politico investigation found to total over $1 million in taxpayer funds.  Prior to tendering his resignation, Price vowed to reimburse the government over $51,000 for the chartered flights.

An investigation into the Zinke’s transgressions by the department’s inspector general is underway after receiving “numerous complaints” about the secretary’s travel and at the request of two Democratic lawmakers.

Similarly, the House natural resources committee has requested documents from Interior related to department officials’ travel practices, which also include attending political fundraisers and giving non-government related speeches while on official business trips.

One such official trip entailed speaking to the NHL’s expansion Las Vegas Golden Knights, owned by a large GOP donor, after which Zinke boarded a $12,000 charter flight to attend a Western Governors Association meeting.

It has also been revealed Zinke appeared at a political fundraiser during a late March–early April trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands, which required him to take a $3,150 charted flight from St. Croix to St. Thomas, and attended at conservative advocacy group meetings while attending to official business in Colorado in July.

 

[AP via Billings Gazette] [PBS] [Politico] [Roll Call] [Photo courtesy AP/J. Scott Applewhite via Washington Times]