Something that's dogged the Trump administration cabinet so far has been misuse of taxpayer-funded travel, and a new report is whipping up some renewed scrutiny. A new report from Politico highlighted Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's helicopter trip to ride horses with Mike Pence, and the exorbitant government-funded travel is getting some attention.
The topline of the story is that Zinke, a former member of the House of Representatives from the state of Montana, has booked more than $14,000 worth of helicopter flights since taking over at the Interior Department, spending thousands in taxpayer money. In one instance, he spent roughly $6,250 in helicopter flights to allow him to make a late-afternoon horseback ride he had planned with the vice president, shuttling from Washington, D.C. to Virginia and back again over the course of a day.
In another instance, he reportedly spent roughly $8,000 to get to an emergency management exercise happening in Virginia, having left Washington, D.C. late because he was attending the swearing-in of Montana Republican Representative Greg Gianforte. When reached for comment, Interior Secretary Heather Swift accused Politico of showing a lack of respect.
"The swearing in of the Congressman is absolutely an official event, as is emergency management training,” she said. “Shame on you for not respecting the office of a Member of Congress.”
Zinke himself is no longer a member of Congress, having left the House to join the Trump cabinet in March. Gianforte was elected to replace Zinke's empty congressional seat.
Zinke is not the first cabinet secretary to have his taxpayer-funded travel come under scrutiny, although the dollar amounts in his case pale in comparison to the far bigger, splashier travel-related scandal the administration faced months ago.
Amid all the firings and resignations that have occurred during President Donald Trump's first year in office, the departure of former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price was particularly memorable for the simplicity and relative banality of the scandal he faced: taking high-priced private flights, sucking up more than $1 million in taxpayer money.
Price resigned in September, after weeks of reporting on his use of expensive chartered jets. Needless to say, the costs of Zinke's and Price's travel are in entirely different realms, but Politico's report ― enabled by a Freedom of Information Act request ― is politically significant. Zinke is already under an ethics investigation into his reported mixing of personal and official travel, and Deputy Inspector General Mary Kendall has accused the former congressman of failing to keep adequate documentation of his travels.
Potentially objectionable travel-related expenses have been a familiar theme for the Trump administration, and not just as the level of the cabinet. The president himself has drawn scrutiny and criticism for his robust leisure schedule, playing golf so frequently (and at his own courses, to boot) that he's on-pace to beat former president Barack Obama's pace by a wide margin. Prior to entering politics, Trump routinely mocked Obama for playing while president.
Much as Price's travel costs blew Zinke's out of the water, neither of them hold a candle to the staggering amounts of taxpayer money Trump has burned through so far. According to Trump Golf Count, which tries to keep track of his visits to golf courses and how often he plays, his go-to leisure activity has cost taxpayers, in travel and associated security expenses, more than $80 million (you can check out their criteria here).
The president's travels, in fact ― as well as those of his immediate family, who also require protection ― reportedly busted the Secret Service's annual budget back in August, with months left to go in the year.