GOP chairman probes Zinke’s charter plane use

GOP chairman probes Zinke’s charter plane use
© Greg Nash

A House GOP chairman is investigating the use of charter and military aircraft by Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWatchdog: First lady spokeswoman may have violated Hatch Act with ‘MAGA’ tweet Lawmakers aim to use spending bill to block offshore drilling Overnight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law MORE.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopWestern lawmakers introduce bills to amend Endangered Species Act New emails reveal Pruitt exempted Utah oil companies from smog rules Making Puerto Rico a state by 2021 MORE (R-Utah), the chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee, sent a letter late Tuesday with Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.) asking for details on use of various types of aircraft by the Trump administration official.

But the Republicans are also investigating how extensively Zinke’s predecessors in the Obama administration — Sally JewellSarah (Sally) Margaret JewellInterior Dept. officials call CNN correspondent 'a f---ing idiot' Zinke and his wife took security detail on vacation to Turkey, Greece: report Zinke: I never took a private jet anywhere MORE and Ken Salazar — used private and government planes.

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The probe comes as multiple Trump Cabinet secretaries, such as Zinke and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA defends FOIA policy after criticism Why did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt MORE, are under scrutiny for their use of charter and military aircraft.

Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Mueller indicts 12 Russian officials for DNC hack | Trump does damage control after bombshell interview MORE resigned as President Trump's Health and Human Services chief last week due to his use of charter planes, which cost taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

But Bishop and Westerman want to bring Obama administration officials into the firestorm as well.

“A recent spike in concerns about federal officials traveling on non-commercial aircraft for official business has prompted various congressional and media inquiries,” the Republicans wrote, citing a letter by the committee’s top Democrat, Rep. Raúl Grijalva (Ariz.), seeking an inspector general investigation into Zinke.

But Grijalva's letter “selectively avoids the Interior Department spokeswoman’s comments stating that ‘charter or military plane trips were booked only after officials were unable to find commercial flights that would accommodate [your] schedule and that all were ‘pre-cleared by career officials in the ethics office,’’” Bishop and Westerman wrote.

Zinke has dismissed the controversy around his travel as “a little BS” and defended his flights as necessary, appropriate and in line with the law.

The scrutiny over his travel has focused largely on a charter flight costing more than $12,000 to take him from a Las Vegas dinner hosted by a former campaign donor to his home state of Montana.

Since the dinner was so late, he could not take a commercial flight and make it to Montana in time for a meeting the next morning.

He also took a charter plane multiple times in the U.S. Virgin Islands in March.

All the flights were cleared by relevant ethics and legal officials at the Interior Department, the administration has said.