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- Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke reportedly spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on government helicopter rides.
- During one trip, Zinke ordered a helicopter so he could be back in Washington to ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence.
- Zinke, who has had issues with related to his use of government funds in the past, was already under investigation by the Interior Department’s inspector general.
Secretary of Interior Ryan Zinke reportedly spent thousands of taxpayer dollars on government helicopter rides in order to attend events, such as a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence, according to a Politico report published on Thursday.
Zinke reportedly traveled in the government helicopters, trips that cost over $14,000, this summer, according to travel log records obtained via a Freedom of Information Act request.
During one such trip, records revealed Zinke ordered an $8,000 flight to take him and his chief of staff to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia in June, according to Politico. Zinke justified the request by stating in the record that he was busy at work in Washington D.C. and wouldn’t be able to leave for the event before 2 p.m., making it impossible for him to make it to the event by car, which would have taken two hours.
Zinke’s official calendar revealed that the official 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, Politico said. Gianforte, a former software executive, and his wife reportedly gave $15,800 to two of Zinke’s congressional campaigns.
“The swearing in of the Congressman is absolutely an official event, as is emergency management training,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said in an email to Politico. “Shame on you for not respecting the office of a Member of Congress.”
In another case, 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. While in Virginia, Zinke reportedly toured a Revolutionary War battlefield and attended a discussion on the boating industry. A trip by car would have taken about three hours, Politico said.
An Interior employee said that Zinke’s trip via helicopter was warranted, given that 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.
Zinke is already embroiled in an investigation by his department’s inspector general for taking several taxpayer-funded chartered flights, including a $12,000 flight from Las Vegas to Montana, Politico said.
Zinke, a former Navy SEAL, has had issues in the past. While on official military orders, Zinke reportedly made some restoration work on a childhood home, according to Outside Magazine. He was eventually forced to repay some unauthorized expenses to the Navy.
Former health secretary Tom Price resigned after he was scrutinized earlier this year for his frequent use of taxpayer-funded private flights while he served in his official capacity. And Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was criticized for citing national security in his request for a $25,000-an-hour Air Force jet to fly to Europe for his honeymoon.