Politico: Zinke one of four Trump officials under scrutiny for private flights

According to Politico, Zinke took chartered flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in March and again from Las Vegans to Kalispell in June. (Martin Kidston/Missoula Current)

Rep. Ryan Zinke came under scrutiny Friday for taking charter flights to two U.S. Virgin Islands this year and another from Las Vegas to Montana, placing him among a handful of senior officials in the Trump administration questioned for their use of publicly-funded travel.

According to Politico, Zinke took chartered flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas in the U.S. Virgin Islands in March and again from Las Vegas to Kalispell in June.

“As with previous interior secretaries, the Secretary traveled on charter flights when there were no commercial options available,” Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said in a statement provided to Politico. “All travel is pre-approved by the ethics office before booking and the charter flights went through an additional level of due diligence.”

The latest allegations aren’t the first time Zinke has come under fire for travel-related issues. Two years ago, he was forced to acknowledge that he improperly billed the government for travel to Montana as a member of the Navy.

In that case, he repaid $211 for one of the trips and called the oversight a “glitch.”

Swift, who couldn’t immediately be reached Friday for comment, told Politico that Zinke’s recent travel on military planes was only booked after officials were unable to find commercial flights to accommodate the secretary’s schedule.

Zinke and several staffers also booked a private flight from Las Vegas to Kalispell, according to the report. Zinke maintains a home in nearby Whitefish.

Swift told Politico that she had not talked to Zinke about reimbursing his travel expenses, including his trip from Las Vegas, which cost upwards of $12,000. Commercial flights are available on Allegiant for a few hundred dollars.

Zinke was in Las Vegas to give a motivational speech to the city’s NHL hockey team, according to the Washington Post.

“Zinke’s spokeswoman told The Post that Zinke needed to charter a flight because flying commercial wouldn’t have gotten him back to Montana in time for the Western Governors Association meeting,” the Post reported. “But the question from there is whether he could have flown commercial had he not attended the NHL team’s event.”

U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price also used private charter flights to Africa, Europe and Asia, costing taxpayers more than $500,000. He promised this week to repay nearly $52,000 in the cost of his seats and has drawn sharp criticism from members of Congress, as well as the president.

In a statement, Price said he will write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of his travel on private charter planes.

“The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes,” the statement read.

Price resigned Friday because of the scandal.