Zinke used private, military planes for travel: report

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and his aides have taken multiple flights on private or military planes to go to events in his home state of Montana and between two Caribbean islands, Politico reports.

Among the flights, the Interior secretary and his staffers used a charter plane that cost $12,375 to fly from Las Vegas to Glacier Park International Airport in Montana in June.

While in Montana, the secretary addressed the Western Governors Association and took part in other meetings.
The department also chartered two flights for Zinke and his staff from St. Croix to St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands to attend various events in March with island officials and the Danish prime minister. Zinke took a commercial flight to the U.S. Virgin Islands.
 Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift told Politico that Zinke’s other flights were booked after the department was unable to find commercial flights corresponding with the secretary’s schedule and that they were all pre-cleared by ethics officials in the department.

Department ethics official Melinda Loftin and Interior lawyer Edward Keable said that Zinke’s travel followed all rules and regulations.
“The Scheduling Office meets regularly with the Departmental Ethics Office and the Division of General Law to ensure that all travel is thoroughly reviewed and approved in advance and that it is fully compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations,” the pair said in a statement.
“Consistent with this process, the trip was reviewed and approved in advance by both the Departmental Ethics Office and the Division of General Law. In short, the trip – including the Secretary’s address to the hockey developmental squad – was completely compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations.”
Zinke also used a military plane to survey wildfires in Montana last month, alongside Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue.

The two agencies said they plan to reimburse the Air Force, according to a USDA spokesperson.

The report on Zinke’s flights comes amid increasing scrutiny of various travel on the part of several Cabinet officials, including those using taxpayer funds for non-commercial flights.

It was revealed that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt as well as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price all used non-commercial travel at some point during their tenure in the Trump administration.

Price said Thursday that he would reimburse taxpayers more than $50,000, a portion of the cost of the more than $400,000 spent on the HHS chief’s private flights.

Swift said she could not to confirm to Politico whether Zinke would reimburse the government for the cost of his travel.