Zinke calls flight controversy ‘a little BS’
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke defended his past charter and military flights Friday, calling the controversy surrounding them “a little BS.”
Zinke prefaced his prepared remarks by saying: “I’d just like to address, in the words of General [H. Norman] Schwarzkopf, ‘a little BS’ on travel.”
The secretary was speaking at the Heritage Foundation, and went on to note that each of the times he has used charter or military plans as secretary has been completely within the normal practices for the government.
“All this travel was done only after it was determined by multiple career officials at the department that no commercial options existed to meet the promulgated scheduled,” Zinke said.
“The flights were only booked after extensive due diligence by the career professionals in the department’s general law and ethics division.”
Numerous previous Interior secretaries have taken charter or military flights, and it is not necessarily out of the ordinary for the position.
Reports from multiple news outlets starting Thursday night, including Politico and the Washington Post, found that Zinke has used charters three times and a military plane once for official travel during his time as secretary.
One of the charters was on a plane owned by an oil executive, costing Interior more than $12,000. It took him from a Las Vegas speech celebrating the city’s new professional hockey team, the Las Vegas Golden Knights, to his home in Montana late at night, in advance of a meeting with the Western Governors’ Association the next morning.
That hockey team is owned by Bill Foley, the chairman of Fidelity National Financial. Foley donated thousands of dollars to Zinke’s House election campaigns, as have employees of and political committees connected to his company.
Zinke said the flight was necessary to accommodate his schedule, and he defended each of the other flights at issue as well.
The news comes as numerous Trump administration cabinet officials are under fire for using costly charter and military aircraft when commercial flying options were available.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has cost his department hundreds of thousands of dollars for such flights, and agreed Thursday to pay the government back for some of the costs.
Zinke maintained that his flights are above board, and he showed no intention of backing down or reimbursing the government.
“Every time I travel, I submit the travel plan to the ethics department, who then evaluates it line by line to make sure that I am above the law, and I follow the law,” he said.
“We are always continuing to look at ways to lower costs at the department.”
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