Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke spent more than $14,000 on government helicopter rides for himself, and staff, to travel to and from Washington D.C. events over the summer — including one time so he could ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence, a new investigation unveiled.
Through a Freedom of Information Act request, Zinke's travel logs revealed he had used "taxpayer-funded vehicles from the U.S. Park Police to help accommodate his political events schedule," the Politico investigation reported.
On June 21, Zinke ordered a Park Police helicopter for him and his chief of staff, Scott Hommel, in order to attend and emergency management exercise in Shepherdstown, West Virginia, Politico reported. The flight cost $8,000 and was justified by the Interior Department because it said Zinke wouldn't have been able to make the event in time otherwise.
"Secretary Zinke’s last engagement in Washington D.C. is at 2 p.m.," and Interior staffer explained as a defense for Zinke's helicopter use. "Driving to [the West Virginia event] would not enable him to be on time and fully participate as scheduled."
Zinke's prior engagement was a ceremony for Rep. Greg Gianforte, R-Mont., who filled Zinke's former seat with a special election victory in May. Gianforte and his wife also donated $15,800 to Zinke's previous congressional campaigns, Politico reported.
"The swearing in of the congressman is absolutely an official event, as is emergency management training," Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said. "Shame on you for not respecting the office of a member of Congress."
But Zinke also wanted to make sure he wasn't late for his horseback ride with the vice president in Washington D.C., so he and another Interior official also ordered a helicopter on July 7, which took them to and from Yorktown, Virginia.
The cost of the total trip was roughly $6,250.
Zinke and the Trump administration have already come under fire for taxpayer abuse, despite President Donald Trump's campaign promises to "drain the swamp." In September, then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price found himself tangled in a Politico investigation that revealed he had repeatedly flown private planes to both official and more extravagant events.
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt are other officials who were caught abusing taxpayer funds for personal gain, along with Zinke, by traveling via private planes.