The Department of Interior Inspector General (IG) released a report today confirming that Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke took an unnecessary and expensive charter flight to address a political backer’s professional hockey team.
“This report confirms that Secretary Zinke abused tax dollars for a highly questionable trip taken at the behest of a political ally,” said Western Values Project Executive Director Chris Saeger. “This isn’t the first time Zinke’s been in trouble for flights on the taxpayer dime. From using a police helicopter flight to go horseback riding and flights on Air Force One to chartering an oil and gas executive’s private aircraft after talking to a hockey team owned by one of his largest donors, enough is enough.”
Questions remain as to who approved the Secretary’s requested travel in the first place, and whether Secretary Zinke misled DOI ethics officials on the nature of his travel. As the report states:
If ethics officials had known Zinke’s speech would have no nexus to the DOI, they likely would not have approved this as an official event, thus eliminating the need for a chartered flight. Moreover, had ethics officials been made aware that the Golden Knights’ owner had been a donor to Zinke’s congressional campaign, it might have prompted further review and discussion.”
Zinke’s use of the chartered aircraft came after he gave an inspirational speech to the National Hockey League’s Las Vegas Golden Knights, who are owned by a fellow part-time Whitefish, Montana resident, and Fidelity National Financial CEO William Foley. Foley has been a long-time supporter and donor of Zinke. Federal Election Campaign records show that Foley, his employees, and associated PACs donated over $200,000 to his congressional races.
On at least one of the military flights that cost taxpayers $56,000, Secretary Zinke was joined by Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue and the two Republican members of Montana’s congressional delegation when they flew to Montana. Incidentally, Congressman Gianforte took this free trip home to submit to a mugshot and fingerprinting for assaulting a reporter after a judge’s order.
The IG report follows an earlier investigation into Zinke’s travel with his wife that was inconclusive and could not determine if he violated the law after finding a complete lack of documentation. The Zinke’s were accompanied by security detail during a two-week vacation to Turkey and Greece. An audit of an overseas trip by EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt that included security detail found that it over cost $120,000.
Also published on Medium.