Sep 29, 2017, 4:21 PM ET

Interior secretary chartered flights at taxpayer's expense, including $12K trip

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Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the latest member of President Donald Trump’s cabinet to come under scrutiny for flying chartered and military aircraft at taxpayers’ expense.

According to Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift, Zinke has chartered three flights since March, including a June 26 flight from Las Vegas to Kalispell, Montana, which incurred a cost of $12,375.

Another chartered flight shuttled Zinke between the Caribbean islands of St. Croix and St. Thomas for the U.S. Virgin Islands Centennial Transfer Day Ceremony.

Politico was first to report on the chartered flights.

In a statement, Swift said “the Secretary traveled on charter flights when there were no commercial options available,” adding that the department’s ethics office approves all travel in advance of booking.

Zinke also shared a military aircraft with U.S. Department of Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue to attend a briefing at a wildfire camp in Montana, Swift said. Tim Murtaugh, a spokesman for the USDA, said Zinke and Perdue were traveling to meet firefighters and assess the situation at the Lolo Peak fire in August.

"Though Secretary Perdue usually travels on commercial flights, in this instance there were no viable commercial options available to transport two Cabinet secretaries, security details, and associated staff from USDA, the Forest Service, and the Department of the Interior to Missoula, Montana in the time required," a spokesperson for the USDA said in a statement to ABC News.

On Friday, Zinke responded to the report, calling it "a little B.S. on travel" during a speech to the Heritage Foundation in Washington, D.C.

The secretary detailed the occasions when he flew charter and military planes, explaining that it happens out of necessity when he travels "in areas and under circumstances that [he doesn't] have other flight options."

"I intend to continue flying in the benefit of official duties," said Zinke, adding, "Every time I travel I submit the travel plan to the ethics department that evaluates it line by line to make sure that I am above the law and I follow the law."

This week, as reports of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s proclivity for chartering pricey private flights made headlines, Trump expressed growing frustration and said he’s “not happy about it” on Wednesday.

On Thursday, Price vowed to reimburse taxpayers for the cost of his seat on chartered flights to the tune of $51,887.31.

Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt have also been cited as frequent flyers of private planes. On Wednesday, the House Oversight Committee opened an inquiry into federal agency travel.

Press secretary Sarah Sanders was asked about the controversy in her press briefing on Thursday, and reiterated the flights for HHS personnel would be halted.

"The White House does not have a role on the front end of approving private charter flights at the agencies and that's something that we are certainly looking into from this point forward and have asked a halt to be put particularly at HHS on any private charter flights moving forward until those reviews are completed," Sanders said.

ABC News' Katherine Faulders and Adam Kelsey contributed to this report.

News - Interior secretary chartered flights at taxpayer's expense, including $12K trip

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  • Puddin' Twain

    What is it with these geriatric millionaire Republicans and their "just plain folks" cowboy drag?

  • Bree Zee

    I'm sure there were no commercially available flights when they want to leave at 2:17 and the only flight was at 2:00 or 2:30. Adjust your schedule. Use Skype. Stop wasting my money. And that goes especially for the chief waste...Trump himself. Stop playing golf on my dime.

  • Vik Karode

    Where were these reporters when Nancy Pelosi took weekly planes at Tax Payer expenses to her trips to California.

  • rick moss

    Zinke, Price, Pruitt, Trump - all spending our tax dollars to pay for personal trips. I think it's only fair that the Trump supporters pay 100% of these unnecessary and illegal expenses since THEY are the ones who made all this possible.

    Step up to the plate, Trumpkins, and shell out YOUR tax dollars to pay for the swamp that you created.

  • Round House Zulu

    Don't know how it is now, but with Zinke being retired military, or if he is retired military, he has rights to fly on military expense as all retired military do. I am talking some fifty years ago so perhaps that has changed. Don't know if that privilege is still viable or not and am not sure if he would still be eligible while being emloyeed by the Federal Government.

  • STJ581

    You're next Zinke.

  • CatMom

    He was just doing what the orange dotard does!

  • Garth Artfunkel

    In 2014, Eric Holder, while attorney general, boarded a government-owned Gulfstream and flew to the Belmont Stakes Thoroughbred horse race in New York with his daughters, their boyfriends and two security officers.

    That trip cost the government $14,440. But Holder only had to reimburse the government $955 for that flight -- the equivalent cost of a coach commercial airline ticket for each non-law enforcement passenger.
    Funny....NEVER heard a PEP from libs about that.

  • Camus53

    Any Vets here today?

    Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin attended a Wimbledon tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey and took a cruise on the Thames this summer during a 10-day trip to discuss veterans’ health issues in Britain and Denmark.
    Shulkin, who traveled on a commercial airline, was accompanied on the trip by his wife, whose airfare was paid for by the government and who received a per diem for meals, the Post said, noting that the Department of Veterans Affairs said she was traveling on “approved invitational orders.”

    His six-person traveling party included an acting undersecretary of health and her husband as well as two aides. They were accompanied by a security detail of as many as six people, the Post said.
    The trip came less than two weeks after Shulkin signed a memo instructing top VA staff to determine whether employee travel in their organization was essential, the Post said. His predecessor took no foreign work trips,

    BTW...the private coverage Vet's Choice program ... another Republican boondoggle costing taxpayers bilions and providing no better care for Vets...has run out of money again, twice this year alone, with now a new request for another 1-2 BILLION in your money...meanwhile the boss is sightseeing in Europe with numerous individuals on our dime!...or should I say tens of thousands of dimes!
    Stand up America

  • George286

    Okay but these guys usually travel with an entourage of assistants and security, that
    is expensive, are we now annoyed about their flights to job sites, like
    Zinke and the Virgin Islands, Montana? isn't that just doing their job?

  • thee1truth

    Focus on Scott Pruitt.....he must be removed before he destroys the world.

  • James Simpson

    He is trying not to laugh as he makes this report. For eight years under Obama we had Hillary selling her seat at the State Department for millions; some Obama official buzzing New York City in Air Force One, not a single question asked about any administration appointees' flight habits although if Obama was leading by example all of this would seem small change. And the reason Zinke and Price thought it was okay, is because that is how members of Congress travel ALL the TIME and how administration officials are ALLOWED to fly. The fact that they are making a story out of this is just another demonstration of the fraudulent double standard in the extreme left biased press.

  • Andrew

    Priviledged republican rich sucking off the taxpayers again. God, how I hate hypocrite republicans.

  • helicohunter

    Is anyone in his administration going to last a year? Ivanka and Jared might make it, but I wouldn't put it past him to throw his own family under the bus if he thinks it will make him more popular

  • Mr. Shadow

    Conservatives at their finest.

  • kamikrazee

    Zinke is the guy that keeps track of political preferences. Worried about employees not in lockstep with him and the Fuh, eh, President....

  • ydnas639

    There's just not even a whiff of a taint of a smidgen of ethics to be found in Trump's administration.

  • No one you know

    Trump isn't draining the swamp; he is just changing the scum floating in it.

  • Dicazi

    Price is just paying for "his" seat??
    The planes would not have been going unless he ordered them to.
    He's responsible for the whole cost!

  • bunchacrooks

    They would still be doing it if they didn't get caught.

  • STJ581

    The far Right's sense of entitlement is astounding. Where's the outrage Trumpers?

  • STJ581

    All hat no cattle.

  • Richard Cardo

    Thieves

  • rbba

    Over $12,000 for transportation rental. Interior Sec. could have rented the current Secretariat for a bit less.

  • Robert What?

    Yawn. Obama took so many expensive vacations at taxpayer expense.

  • bee's knees

    In Zinke's defense, I know from personal experience that commercial flights to Montana are few and far between. Getting from Las Vegas to Kalispell (or out of Kalispell) could take 24 hours; it's not like taking a private jet from Philly to D.C., where there are several low-cost and expedient alternatives.
    A lot of travel in the western US is similar, and the bulk of federal lands and BLM offices are located in the west.

  • Verity Pendelton

    This evil man is dismantling and destroying our national parks and public lands. He wants the entire country to look like a strip mine and our waters to look like oil slicks.

  • SouthernTide7

    So THIS is what's called "draining the swamp"?
    who knew?

    Zinke also got caught falsifying expenses for the Navy when he visited his home. Trump should have known about this before appointing him.

    We see now...

  • MarkM

    Where are all these Trumpf voter's outrage? Do they not get news down in the coal mines?

  • Guest

    Entitled private sector people aren't a good fit for government, whose purpose is to balance and fill gaps in that private sector can't address.

  • John Hancharick

    The wealthy never want to spend their own money when they can use someone else's. "Pony" up before prison for stealing.

  • Devliz_Tower

    This guy is as bad as Trump. He thinks he is a dictator. Very common amongst insecure people.

  • Crazy_joe

    Bend over American taxpayers, the new swamp is determined to be worse than the old swamp.

  • Eva

    If United can physically remove passengers in favour of employees, can we not just create a law that says government officials on government duty can take a seat on any plane? It would save millions and essentially have no cons, since people are removed regularly anyway.

  • Planet Earth

    Vegas?

  • Lee Thompson

    What does this "administration" do well or right? Someone tell me, please.
    I hear Trump supporters say things like . . ."you never give the president credit for anything". I'd love to be able to give him credit . . . if only he would do something worthwhile.

  • Bob Conner

    Amazing how Trump can't stop obsessing over "crooked Hilary". Yet; it appears he goes out of his way to hire the biggest crooks he can find to fill his cabinet with

  • Mark Rothschild

    RUMPS...Feral Cabinet...thinks this a Third-World Dictatorship..with 24 ct. Gold Bath Tubs

  • Bob Conner

    The party of the gold ol' boy's club is ripping us off with every new Trump appointee. Trump has drained the swamp and deposited the refuge right in the middle of DC. People like Tom Price and Ryan Zinke know they're stealing from the U.S. tax payers, but apparently couldn't care less. It's time to drain the swamp, for real this time. Tim to fire Price and Zinke.

  • Mark Rothschild

    "I'll Pay for my Seat",($50,000)..on Chartering Luxury Gulf Stream II's..that were $950,000 to Charter

  • Your Worst Nightmare

    Hey Donnie, when you promise to "drain the swamp" you should realize that it doesn't means you fill it with high priced predators that make it even slimier.