Any allegation of his wrongdoing regarding taxpayer funded charter flights is “complete and utter bulls**t” and driven by politics, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke told reporters Wednesday.
Zinke brushed off the recent criticism leveraged against him, saying that all of his trips are “legal, ethical. All the trips went through absolute due diligence,” the Billings Gazette reported.
Since he took office, Zinke has made three private flights, costing about $20,000. One $12,375 flight from Las Vegas to an airport near his home in Montana has drawn attention and criticism for its necessity and connection with the oil and gas industry. The plane was owned by industry executives.
The flight was chartered through Choice Aviation, a company that the Department of Interior (DOI) has contracted since 2014, when Sally Jewell was serving as Interior Secretary to former President Barack Obama.
Zinke’s flight was also cleared through the Departmental Ethics Office Division of General Law before it was purchased. The ethics board found that there was no other way for him to both attend a scheduled dinner with the Golden Knights hockey team in Las Vegas and speak at the Western Governor’s Association annual meeting in Montana the next morning.
“Consistent with this process, the trip was reviewed and approved in advance by both the Departmental Ethics Office and the Division of General Law. In short, the trip — including the Secretary’s address to the hockey developmental squad — was completely compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations,” ethics office director Melinda Loftin and deputy solicitor Edward Keable said in a joint statement.
Aaron Weiss of the environmental advocacy group Center for Western Priorities slammed Zinke’s use of taxpayer funded chartered flights.
“Secretary Zinke’s entire Nevada trip appears to be a flimsy excuse for a political event in Tahoe and a thank-you dinner with his biggest campaign bundler,” Weiss told The Washington Post.
“There was no legitimate reason for the secretary to be there in the first place,” Weiss said. “Then he saddles taxpayers with the bill for a private plane when he could have easily flown commercial.”
Jewell, however, defended Zinke’s $12,000 flight, noting that she had done something similar while she was in office.
“If he had legitimate business while he’s on the island, to do a political thing on the side I don’t think that is that unusual,” Jewell said, according to Politico.
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