FEATURED:

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 ZinkeGOP lawmakers: Obama admin ‘hastily’ wrote lead ammunition ban Ex-Interior chief ribs Zinke over ‘secretarial flag’ Trump, Pence to address CPAC this week MORE.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopInterior plan to use drilling funds for new projects met with skepticism For energy dominance, make states equal partners in offshore energy Trump admin proposes repealing most of Obama methane leak rule 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 JewellEx-Interior chief ribs Zinke over ‘secretarial flag’ Overnight Regulation: Senate panel approves driverless car bill | House bill to change joint-employer rule advances | Treasury to withdraw proposed estate tax rule | Feds delaying Obama methane leak rule Overnight Energy: Dems take on Trump's chemical safety pick MORE and Ken Salazar — used private and government planes.

ADVERTISEMENT

The probe comes as multiple Trump Cabinet secretaries, such as Zinke and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittOvernight Energy: Dems ask Pruitt to justify first-class travel | Obama EPA chief says reg rollback won't stand | Ex-adviser expects Trump to eventually rejoin Paris accord Overnight Regulation: Trump to take steps to ban bump stocks | Trump eases rules on insurance sold outside of ObamaCare | FCC to officially rescind net neutrality Thursday | Obama EPA chief: Reg rollback won't stand Overnight Defense: First Gitmo transfer under Trump could happen 'soon' | White House says Trump has confidence in VA chief | Russia concedes 'dozens' of civilians injured in Syria clash MORE, are under scrutiny for their use of charter and military aircraft.

Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceGreen group calls on Pruitt to pay back first-class flight costs Top Dems seeks answers from HHS on ethics lapses GOP lawmaker calls for Shulkin to resign 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.