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 ZinkeInterior gains new watchdog The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks BLM issues final plan for reduced Utah monument MORE.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopHere are the lawmakers who aren't seeking reelection in 2020 Overnight Energy: House moves to block Trump drilling | House GOP rolls out proposal to counter offshore drilling ban | calls mount for NOAA probe House GOP rolls out energy proposal to counter Democrats offshore drilling ban 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 JewellNational parks pay the price for Trump's Independence Day spectacle Overnight Energy: Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone | UN report offers dire climate warning | Trump expected to lift ethanol restrictions Zinke extends mining ban near Yellowstone 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 moving ahead with science transparency rule by 'early next year' Overnight Energy: Trump administration to repeal waterway protections| House votes to block drilling in Arctic refuge| Administration takes key step to open Alaskan refuge to drilling by end of year Trump administration to repeal waterway protections MORE, are under scrutiny for their use of charter and military aircraft.

Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceTom Price: The fiscal crisis at hand The Hill's Morning Report — Hurricane headed for Florida changes Trump's travel plans The Hill's Morning Report - Gillibrand drops out as number of debaters shrinks 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.