Earlier this year it was revealed that Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price used a whopping $300,000 of taxpayer money to charter private jets for personal events, which included traveling to places where he owns property and having lunch with his son. Price finally resigned under pressure at the end of September.
Now, another Cabinet official, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, is being strongly criticized for similar misuse of taxpayer money. Zinke was also investigated around the same time Price was being investigated. According to POLITICO:
‘Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent more than $14,000 on government helicopters this summer to take himself and staff to and from official events near Washington, D.C., in order to accommodate his attendance at a swearing-in ceremony for his replacement in Congress and a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence, according to previously undisclosed official travel documents.’
Zinke’s travel logs were released to POLITICO via a Freedom of Information Act Request (FOIA). The logs show that Zinke used taxpayer funded vehicles from the U.S. Park Police to help accommodate his special events schedule. POLITICO reported:
‘In a case detailed in the new documents, Zinke ordered a U.S. Park Police helicopter to take him and his chief of staff, Scott Hommel, to an emergency management exercise in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, on June 21.’
That flight alone cost $8,000 but officials justified it by saying that official business would prevent him from leaving before 2:00 p.m, which would have made it too late to make the two-hour drive to the exercise. The exercise they were referring to was a swearing-in ceremony for Rep. Greg Gianforte (R-MT). Gianforte won the special election for Zinke’s old seat back in May, and his wife has contributed $15,800 to both of Zinke’s Congressional campaigns.
The Interior staff member wrote:
‘Secretary Zinke’s last engagement in Washington D.C. is at 2 p.m. Driving to [the West Virginia event] would not enable him to be on time and fully participate as scheduled.’
Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift sent an email on Thursday, saying:
‘The swearing in of the Congressman is absolutely an official event, as is emergency management training. Shame on you for not respecting the office of a Member of Congress.’
In July, Zinke even ordered a Park Police helicopter to fly him and another interior official to and from Yorktown, Virginia, just so he could be back in time to go on a horseback ride with Vice President Pence. The expense for that alone was $625o.
Another lavish expense includes a $12,000 flight he took from Las Vegas to Montana for the purpose of giving a speech to a hockey team that was owned by a major campaign donor.
POLITICO also reported:
‘In an email to Interior travel scheduler Tim Nigborowicz, an Interior employee justified Zinke’s using the helicopter rather than a less expensive method by saying “the Secretary will be able to familiarize himself with the in-flight capabilities of an aircraft he is in charge of” and that the Park Police staff on board would “provide an added measure of security to the Secretary during his travel.”’
In addition, Zinke, who is also a former Montana Congressman and Navy Seal, is being investigated by the Interior Department’s inspector general and Independent Office of Special Counsel for his mixing of official travel and political events.
Zinke has also developed a plan to shrink at least ten national monuments, and possibly more, to open them up for mining and drilling.
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