Federal Officials Launch Investigation Into Interior Secretary’s Private Jet Travel

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Michael Bastasch DCNF Managing Editor
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Federal officials have opened an investigation into Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke’s private aircraft travel.

The Associated Press reported Monday that the Department of the Interior inspector general (IG) is looking into Zinke’s air travel. Zinke is one of four cabinet members to come under fire for chartering private planes with taxpayer dollars.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned Friday after billing taxpayers for $400,000 in chartered flights. Reporters have also tried to tie Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt and Secretary of the Treasury Steve Mnuchin to the private jet scandal.

Zinke’s travels were first detailed by Politico, but The Washington Post found Zinke flew a private jet owned by oil and gas executives after giving a speech to a hockey team owned by a former campaign donor.

That trip from Las Vegas to Kalispell, Mont., cost taxpayers more than $12,000. Interior Department officials told WaPo they flew the private plane because no commercial flights were available that met their scheduling needs.

However, WaPo’s story left out key details that blunted its salience, including the fact that the plane was chartered through a federal contractor that had been working with the Interior Department since the Obama administration.

WaPo also neglected to include a statement from the department’s top ethics official and general counsel — both career employees — clearing Zinke of violating department rules or policies.

Indeed, former Interior Secretary Sally Jewell used private jets on at least three occasions in 2016 alone, costing taxpayers nearly $36,000.

That didn’t seem to placate the IG’s office, which is now investigating Zinke’s use of private flights.

The IG investigation comes days after a left-leaning government watchdog group petitioned the IG to see if Zinke violated the Hatch Act.

The Campaign for Government Accountability (CGA) asked the IG’s office to investigate whether Zinke “violated conflict of interest laws and the Hatch Act by speaking before the National Hockey League team the Vegas Golden Knights as part of his official duties,” according to a release.

“It doesn’t seem like the ethics officials knew the true reason behind the trip: to speak to the employees of a campaign donor,” CGA executive director Daniel Stevens told The Daily Caller News Foundation.

It’s unclear if CGA’s complaint has anything to do with the IG’s new investigation. The Interior Department did not respond to TheDCNF’s request for comment.

Zinke took on critics of his private jet travel while speaking at the conservative Heritage Foundation on Friday.

“Before we get started, I’d just like to address, in the words of General Schwarzkopf, a little BS on travel,” Zinke said.

“Using tax dollars wisely and ethically is a greatest responsibility and it is at the heart of a good government,” Zinke said. “And there are times, however, when we have to utilize charter services because we often travel in areas and under circumstances that we don’t have other flight options.”

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