Gage Skidmore / Flickr Ryan Zinke...
Gage Skidmore / Flickr

Only days after Health and Human Services head Tom Price resigned after it came to light that taxpayers had spent more than $1 million on luxury jet travel in his six months on the job, another cabinet member is facing internal investigation over similar use of taxpayer-funded private flights.

The Interior Department’s inspector general’s office has opened an investigation into Secretary Ryan Zinke’s use of taxpayer-funded charter planes, a spokeswoman said Monday. […]

The Las Vegas trip has attracted particular scrutiny, because Zinke was appearing at an event affiliated with a major campaign donor that kept him from catching a commercial flight to Montana. He gave a motivational speech to a dinner for the Las Vegas Golden Knights, a new hockey team owned by Bill Foley, the chairman of Fidelity National Financial. Employees and PACs associated with Fidelity and associated companies have donated nearly $200,000 to Zinke’s past congressional campaigns.

So not only did taxpayers foot the bill for a $12,000 charter flight from Las Vegas—on a plane owned by a executives of a Wyoming oil exploration company—but did so apparently so that cabinet member Zinke could ingratiate himself to a political donor. The Nevada trip also included a stop in Lake Tahoe, where Zinke spoke at an exclusive dinner for a group backed by the archconservative Koch brothers.

That’s not quite as on-the-nose as the fabulously wealthy new treasury secretary billing taxpayers for a trip to watch a solar eclipse from Fort Knox, which is very close to a premise for an as-of-yet-unwritten Batman film, but it is close. Zinke is one of four high-ranking Trump appointees whose use of taxpayer-funded charter flights has come under scrutiny.

It is unclear what actions the inspector general can take if Zinke’s use of chartered flights is deemed improper, but remedies would likely rely on the acquiescence of Donald Trump. We also don’t know if news of other trips will be revealed in the near future. Like Price, Zinke is a former Republican House member who bleated loudly during his congressional tenure about fiscal prudence, government accountability, and so on.

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This is a Creative Commons article. The original version of this article appeared here.


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