The Associated Press on YouTube: Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke: Charter Travel Was Needed and Ethical

Secretary Zinke under investigation for travel on government and private planes

Secretary Ryan Zinke of the Department of the Interior is defending his travel expenses amid an internal investigation.

In remarks to a conservative group on Friday, Zinke referred to the travel controversy as a "little B.S." just hours before one of his Cabinet colleagues resigned due to scandal. But he quickly noted that taxpayers are entitled to an accounting of his spending.

The Office of Inspector General is doing just that with an investigation into Zinke's trips since March. During that time, he's visited remote reservations in Indian Country and far-flung areas of public lands that fall under the department's purview.

“It’s not just one trip,” a spokesperson for the Inspector General told The Washington Post. “It’s seven months of travel.”

According to news reports, the Inspector General opened the investigation on Friday, the same day Zinke defended his travel habits as legal and ethical. By the end of the day, Tom Price resigned as Secretary of Health and Human Services after his expensive habit of using private planes angered President Donald Trump.

Also on Friday, the White House Office of Management and Budget ordered Cabinet heads to seek "prior approval" from Trump's chief of staff before traveling on "government-owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft," a directive that would seem to apply to the use of private planes.

"Every penny we spend comes from the taxpayer," OMB Director Mick Mulvaney wrote in the memo. "We thus owe it to the taxpayer to work as hard managing that money wisely as the taxpayer must do to earn it in the first place. Put another way, just because something is legal doesn't make it right."

According to news reports, Zinke and his staff spent $12,375 on a private plane in June. The trip enabled him to get to his home in Montana after appearing at events in Nevada that did not appear to be directly related to Interior's mission of managing public lands and fulfilling the government's obligations in Indian Country.

"When reports surfaced of Secretary Zinke’s use of private charters I said that the taxpayers deserve answers," Sen. Maria Cantwell (D-Washington), the top Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee, said in a press release on Monday. "I look forward to reviewing the Inspector General's report and if it concludes that Secretary Zinke misused public funds, he should promptly reimburse the taxpayers."

“Secretary Zinke has the nerve to blow your tax dollars on easy living and then tell oil executives that a third of his own workforce isn’t loyal to the Trump administration, Rep. Raúl M. Grijalva (D-Arizona), the top Democrat on the House Committee on Natural Resources, added in a press release. "Loyalty to this White House means treating taxpayer money like a piggy bank. He’s the one with the ethics problems, not the employees he threw under the bus."

Read More on the Story:
Interior watchdog opens investigation into Zinke's travel (POLITICO October 2, 2017)
Federal watchdog opens probe into travel by Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke (The Washington Post October 2, 2017)
Interior Department inspector general opens investigation into Secretary Ryan Zinke's use of private air charters (The Associated Press October 2, 2017)
U.S. Interior Dept. Watchdog Launches Probe Into Zinke's Travel (Reuters October 2, 2017)
Zinke calls travel controversy 'a little B.S.' (POLITICO September 29, 2017)
Zinke dismisses charter use as a ‘little BS over travel’ (The Washington Post September 29, 2017)
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s private plane travel looks pretty . . . swampy (The Washington Post September 29, 2017)

An Opinion:
Joel Davidson: Disloyalty slur latest in series showing Trump administration’s mistrust of feds (The Washington Post October 2, 2017)

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