Administration

Zinke under federal investigation for speech to NHL team: report

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is under investigation by two federal agencies for a speech he made to a NHL hockey team this summer, according to a new report Wednesday.

The Interior Department's office of inspector general is now including Zinke's use of a private jet to travel after the speech to its review of Zinke's use of chartered and military planes, CNN reported.

The Office of Special Counsel is also investigating Zinke for a potential violation of the Hatch Act related to the speech. The Hatch Act blocks federal employees from using their positions for political purposes.

The trip was added to the Interior Department investigation at the request of Democratic Reps. Raul Grijalva (Ariz.) and Donald McEachin (Va.), according to CNN.

The Campaign for Accountability, a nonprofit watchdog, filed a complaint with the special counsel office over Zinke's travel on a chartered plane to speak to the NHL team the Vegas Golden Knights.

The Golden Knights are owned by Fidelity National Financial chairman Bill Foley. Foley personally made maximum campaign donations to Zinke's reelection campaigns for his Montana House seat in 2013 and 2014, totaling $5,200, according to campaign finance records. That relationship creates the potential conflict of interest with Zinke's political position.

Zinke reportedly gave a "motivational speech" to the Vegas Golden Knights in Las Vegas in June before taking a private, chartered jet to Montana.

Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift told Environment & Energy that Zinke "was asked to give a speech about leadership and the importance of teamwork."

"The department's career ethics officials determined this was well within the department's mission and it also was a key audience of people we are trying to target to use our public lands," she said.

Zinke is the latest federal official to be under scrutiny for his use of private travel - Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt and former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price all faced probes over their own use of private, military or chartered planes and the funds it requires from taxpayers.

Veteran Affairs Secretary David Shulkin is also being investigated over a government trip to Europe last summer during which he reportedly spent half of his time sightseeing or shopping.

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