Zinke Scrutinized For Taking A Security Detail To Countries Bombed By Terrorists
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is under scrutiny again for travel related expenses, this time for taking a security detail when he and his wife went on vacation in August, Politico reports.
U.S. Park Police accompanied the Zinkes on their trip that included stops in Athens, Greece and Istanbul, Turkey.
“The United States secretary of the Interior is in the presidential line of succession and has access to sensitive and classified information, which makes his protection a matter of national security,” Department of the Interior Spokeswoman Heather Swift told Politico. “In 2016 there were at least 5 terrorist attacks in Istanbul where the secretary traveled. During the period of travel there were several security incidents and threats in the region. Both of these considerations further merited a prudent security presence.”
Government watchdog Project On Government Oversight (POGO) called the security expense, paid for by taxpayers, problematic.
“It’s not necessarily an abuse of authority or a waste of taxpayer dollars if there’s a credible threat, but it can be questionable if an agency chief just wants a big entourage and the trappings of power,” POGO Director of Investigations Nick Schwellenbach told Politico.
Zinke is the second cabinet official to face questions over travel expenses involving security in recent weeks. The Environmental Protection Agency spent roughly $30,000 on security for a trip Administrator Scott Pruitt took to Italy to meet with energy ministers at a summit at the Vatican. The amount spent on Zinke’s security is unclear.
Unlike Pruitt’s trip, Zinke was primarily vacationing, though he met with U.S. diplomats in Greece and Turkey on “courtesy” visits, Politico reports.
Zinke’s travel spending has been questioned in the past for including charter flights. Each flight was approved by an ethics board before it was taken, however, and Zinke has referred to accusations that he abused taxpayer funds to book them as “complete and utter bullshit” and insulting.