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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 ZinkeOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Interior shortlist puts focus on New Mexico lawmakers | Progressives criticize Biden transition over volunteer who represented Exxon | Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report Trump DOJ appointees stalled investigation into Zinke: report GOP Rep. Greg Gianforte wins Montana governor's race MORE.

Rep. Rob BishopRobert (Rob) William BishopRepublicans in campaign mode for top spots on House environmental committees Hillicon Valley: House votes to condemn QAnon | Americans worried about foreign election interference | DHS confirms request to tap protester phones House approves measure condemning QAnon, but 17 Republicans vote against it 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 JewellOVERNIGHT ENERGY: Barrasso to seek top spot on Energy and Natural Resources Committee | Forest Service finalizes rule weakening environmental review of its projects | Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight National 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 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 PruittMajor unions back Fudge for Agriculture secretary Biden to enlist Agriculture, Transportation agencies in climate fight Democratic lawmaker calls for DOJ investigation of entire Trump administration MORE, are under scrutiny for their use of charter and military aircraft.

Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceConspicuous by their absence from the Republican Convention Coronavirus Report: The Hill's Steve Clemons interviews Chris Christie Trump flails as audience dwindles and ratings plummet 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.