U.S. interior secretary's travel spending under review

Elias Hubbard
October 3, 2017

The Interior Department's inspector general's office has opened an investigation into Secretary Ryan Zinke's use of taxpayer-funded charter planes, a spokeswoman said Monday. The Interior Department has jurisdiction over the Virgin Islands. Jon Tester (D-MT), an incumbent who will be seeking reelection in 2018.

Arizona Rep. Raul Grijalva, a senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, and Virginia Rep. Donald McEachin, a member of an oversight subcommittee on investigations, requested the investigation.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is investigating whether Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke violated a law barring executive branch employees from engaging in political activity when he gave a speech to a professional hockey team owned by a political donor in June, the agency said on Tuesday. Price came under criticism for using costly chartered planes while on government business. He claimed chartered flights were only used when "no commercial flights existed to meet" his official schedule.

The chartered flight to Montana allowed him to give a speech to the Las Vegas Golden Knights, a new National Hockey League team owned by one of Zinke's most generous political donors.

Federal investigators are now looking into Zinke's travel expenses during his tenure after Politico reported last week that he had chartered a $12,000 flight from Las Vegas to an airport near his hometown in Montana and another flight between two Caribbean islands, according to the Washington Post.

"Contrary to the conclusion drawn by Interior officials, a trip to offer a motivational speech to a hockey team does not appear to fall within the mission of the Department of Interior - 'protecting America's Great Outdoors and Powering Our Future, '" the watchdog group wrote.

The inspector general's office investigation into Zinke's travel is "at its earliest phases", Politico reported, quoting a spokesperson with the inspector general's office.

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin have also come under scrutiny over reports of expenseive private plane use. Since taking office in February, Pruitt has "held back-to-back meetings, briefing sessions and speaking engagements nearly daily with top corporate executives and lobbyists from all the major economic sectors that he regulates - and nearly no meetings with environmental groups or consumer or public health advocates", the newspaper wrote.

HHS Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign from Donald Trump's cabinet late last week following revelations that he relied on taxpayer-financed private flights to a ridiculous degree.

Other reports by Click Lancashire

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