Published: Fri, October 06, 2017
Worldwide | By Isabel Fisher

Interior Department: Zinke Dismisses Criticism Of Travel, Climate Scientist From Maine Resigns

Interior Department: Zinke Dismisses Criticism Of Travel, Climate Scientist From Maine Resigns

The inspector general for the Interior Department is looking into the mode of travel Secretary Ryan Zinke used to attend a meeting with the Vegas Golden Knights hockey team, CNN reported Thursday. He took a charter jet home to Montana after to "meet the great governor of the great state of Montana", a flight that cost taxpayers $12,375.

A spokeswoman for Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall said the inspector general's office was investigating Zinke's travel.

The report comes as multiple investigations into the former one-term congressman's travel while serving in the Trump administration were announced this week following various media reports on the subject.

"Claims that the secretary's full schedule required the use of chartered aircraft deserve scrutiny". Price was forced to resign Friday after questions arose about the $400,000 travel bill he accumulated taking private planes.

Zinke said Friday that "taxpayers absolutely have the right to know official travel costs", but he dismissed criticism of his flights as "a little BS over travel".

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.

According to Interior travel records and other documents seen by POLITICO, the secretary has met with GOP donors and political groups more than a half-dozen times while on taxpayer-funded department trips, including a local Republican Party fundraiser in the U.S. Virgin Islands where donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a photo-op with Zinke. The team's owner contributed to Zinke's congressional campaigns and to Trump's inauguration. Zinke wants to expand energy production in Alaska, while the Interior Department oversees the U.S. Virgin Islands.

"Ethics watchdogs say Zinke is combining politics with his Interior duties so frequently that he risks tripping over the prohibitions against using government resources for partisan activity", POLITCO reports. All of Zinke's flights — including a military flight with Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to view wildfires in Montana in August — were approved by career officials at the department, she said.

The senior Democrat on the House Natural Resources Committee, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva of Arizona and Rep. Donald McEachin of Virginia, a Democrat who sits on the oversight panel of the committee, wrote a complaint to the inspector general.

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