Interior secretary chartered flights at taxpayers’ expense, including $12K trip

Posted on: September 29th, 2017 by ABC News No Comments

Mark Wilson/Getty Images(WASHINGTON) — Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke is the latest member of President 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 (USDA) Secretary Sonny Perdue to attend a briefing at a wildfire camp in Montana, Swift said.

A USDA spokesperson told Politico, “The military plane was used because of a very tight travel window, with no viable commercial airline options to transport two secretaries; security details; and associated USDA, Forest Service and Interior staff to Missoula in the time required.”

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 that 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.

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