- The Washington Times - Friday, December 8, 2017

Democrats pounced on Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke again Friday after reports the former Montana congressman spent thousands of dollars in taxpayer money on helicopter flights, including traveling from Virginia to Washington to ride horses with Vice President Mike Pence.

Mr. Zinke’s travels, first reported by Politico, come amid broader accusations that the administration has misused taxpayer funds for travel. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price stepped down in September after it was revealed he spent more than $1 million on private plane flights.

Mr. Zinke’s travels were far less expensive, but critics still said he’s guilty of misusing taxpayer money.

“It is astonishing that the Trump administration continues to waste taxpayer dollars on personal travel, even after one of Trump’s Cabinet secretaries was forced to resign over his use of private planes. The American people will find it very hard to understand why their hard-earned money went toward a horseback ride with Vice President Pence,” said Adrienne Watson, spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee.

In total, Mr. Zinke spent more than $14,000 on helicopter flights over the summer, including a $8,000 trip to West Virginia for an emergency management exercise. Officials said Mr. Zinke had to use a helicopter because of scheduling conflicts; on the day in question, he attended the swearing in of his replacement in Congress, Republican Rep. Greg Gianforte, and wouldn’t have been able to drive to West Virginia in time to make the exercise.

He also reportedly spent $6,250 on a helicopter trip from Yorktown, Virginia, back to Washington to meet Mr. Pence for a scheduled 4 p.m. horseback ride.

Interior officials defended the expenses.

“It’s yellow journalism at its worst,” Interior spokeswoman Heather Swift said after the reports surfaced. “After a congressional hearing, the secretary attended an official congressional event with the congressman from Montana and the speaker of the House before going to an emergency management briefing. On the other occasion he did an aerial survey of a power line corridor, which was pending before the department, while traveling back from meetings in southern Virginia in order to get to a meeting with the vice president.”

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