Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke reportedly spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on rides in government helicopters.
Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on government helicopter rides to attend events including a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence, according to a Politico report published on Thursday.
Zinke's helicopter trips this summer cost over $14,000, Politico reported, citing travel log records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.
In June, Zinke ordered an $8,000 flight to take him and his chief of staff to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia, according to Politico. Zinke's justification in the record was that he was busy with an event in Washington, DC, and wouldn't be able to get to the exercise in time by car.
Politico said Zinke's official calendar showed that the event in question was a swearing-in ceremony for Rep. Greg Gianforte of Montana, who won Zinke's congressional seat in a heated special election in May. Gianforte, a former software executive, and his wife gave $15,800 to two of Zinke's congressional campaigns, the report said.
"The swearing in of the Congressman is absolutely an official event, as is emergency management training," Heather Swift, a spokeswoman for the Department of the Interior, said in an email to Politico. "Shame on you for not respecting the office of a Member of Congress."
In another case, the Politico report said, Zinke traveled in a Park Police helicopter to and from Virginia — a $6,250 trip — to arrive on time in Washington for a horseback ride with Pence. Department officials had estimated the trip to Virginia would have taken about three hours.
While in Virginia, Zinke toured a Revolutionary War battlefield and attended a discussion on the boating industry, the report said.
An interior employee said in an email to the department's travel scheduler that Zinke's helicopter trip was warranted because he would have been "able to familiarize himself with the in-flight capabilities of an aircraft he is in charge of" and that Park Police personnel would "provide an added measure of security to the Secretary during his travel," Politico reported.
The department's inspector general is already investigating Zinke's taking several taxpayer-funded chartered flights this year, including a $12,000 trip from Las Vegas to Montana, Politico said.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, has previously had similar issues related to his use of government funds. While on official military orders in the late 1990s, Zinke made some restoration work on a childhood home, and he was eventually forced to repay some unauthorized expenses to the Navy, Outside magazine reported on Monday.
Tom Price resigned as the secretary of health and human services in September after he was scrutinized over his frequent use of taxpayer-funded private flights while he served in his official capacity. And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was criticized earlier this year for requesting a $25,000-an-hour Air Force jet to fly to Europe for his honeymoon.