Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke faced even more scrutiny Tuesday night over his travel habits.
CNN reviewed departmental travel records and flagged several examples that ethics experts told the network raised additional questions of propriety. A spokesperson for the department, Heather Swift, defended Zinke in each case. The secretary currently faces two inspector general investigations.
In one example, Zinke stayed at a Dallas Four Seasons resort and attended an “NRA Luncheon with Community Leaders” which included Republican donors and fundraisers. He attended the NRA Women’s Leadership Forum Dinner that night, CNN reported, according to now-public records. Asked about the trip by CNN, Swift said in part that “trips are reviewed and approved in advance by both the Departmental Ethics Office and the Division of General Law.”
In April of last year, the National Park Service spent nearly $2,000 — as previously reported by the Washington Post — to re-position a Park Service boat near Zinke’s California home, so he and his family could take a trip to the Channel Islands, five of which constitute Channel Islands National Park. CNN reported, citing Park Service emails, that some of the related travel hubbub “centered on making sure Zinke stayed on schedule to make it back to the mainland for a speech in Santa Barbara to the conservative group Young America’s Foundation on April 17.”
One of Zinke’s guests on that boat, CNN reported, was the latest in a family of ranchers who had once held a fundraiser for him when he was running for Congress, in 2014. The rancher’s family had once had a large operation on Santa Rosa Island, CNN reported, which is part of Channel Island National Park. The network said documents showed Zinke had talked about opening a “working demonstration ranch” on the same island to “highlight the island’s ranching heritage.”
Swift told CNN in part: “You may have missed the recent news that the Secretary is working on a national reorganization of the Department and has proposed a multi-billion infrastructure proposal targeting parks. He went to several parks last year leading up to drafting those historic initiatives and will continue to meet his team and learn more about local offices.”
CNN also gave the example of a private helicopter tour the secretary took in Nevada. As wildfires raged in the same state, according to the report, Zinke visited multiple stops with a crew supervisor who, his social media profile shows, was otherwise working to battle flames “through September,” according to the network.
Swift told CNN that regulations required the secretary to have a qualified helicopter manager accompany him on the flights.