Last year was the most expensive on record for the federal government’s efforts to fight wildfires, at a budget-busting cost of over $2 billion, but that didn’t stop Trump’s controversial Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke from improperly charging an expensive helicopter trip to the rapidly depleting account meant for fighting fires.
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The Interior Department billed Zinke’s $39,295 helicopter tour of Nevada to the wildfire preparedness fund even though it had nothing to do with the three wildfires going on when he took the trip in July.
Ryan Zinke's caused a lot of controversy with his private flights, but none have been as egregious as using wildfire preparedness funding to pay for a trip that had nothing to do with wildfires, while a wildfire ravaged California. https://t.co/B8geGpHerQ
— Citizens for Ethics (@CREWcrew) January 1, 2018
Zinke, who was criticized last month by the Interior Department’s Inspector General for filing incomplete accounting of his travel through September 30, the end of the fiscal year, still charged his helicopter tour to the Bureau of Land Management and the National Interagency Fire Center, which organizes responses to wildfires, although he did not visit a single fire zone that day, according to a report by Newsweek.
The group Democracy Forward used the Freedom of Information Act to obtain documents from the Interior Department and then shared them with Newsweek.
In one memo there was a discussion about having Zinke visit a fire line in Nevada but on July 17 a staffer said the Secretary’s schedule would not allow that, so there was no reason to allow any part of the trip to drain badly needed funds for wildfire preparedness.
When Newsweek asked questions about the trip and the billing, Zinke’s rep, Heather Swift, insisted everything was in “full compliance with all federal regulations.”
However, she then admitted that the trip “was charged to the account in error,” and said it would be paid out of a “more appropriate account.”
When told that Interior called it a mistake and posted the trip to another account, Corey Ciorciari, a former policy advisor to Hillary Clinton who is now Democracy Forward’s policy and strategy director, calls this “yet another example of the Turmp administration abusing taxpayer dollars to fund the lifestyles of its rich and semifamous cabinet.”
Ciociari said given the many questions about Zinke’s past travel, “the idea this was a ‘billing error’ is laughable.”
The Trump cabinet has been caught abusing the federal government for private, political and questionable trips for months. Tom Price resigned as Secretary of Health and Human Services in September amid a scandal over the cost of his private air travel.
In March, Zinke was questioned over combining official travel with political activity, including attending a Republican fundraiser in the Virgin Islands. Zinke also took a questionable $12,000 flight from Las Vegas to Montana, where he has a home, to speak to a hockey team owned by a political donor.
It was after this July round trip from Las Vegas that covered over 700,000 acres that Zinke recommended shrinking the Gold Butte national monument in Nevada, Bears Ears in Utah and Cascade-Siskiyou in Oregon and California, which Trump later did – all of which have been condemned by conservationists and in some cases native Americans.
When he was a Congressman, Zinke was charged with converting campaign funds for his personal use.
In October, Politico reported that Zinke helped raise money for political groups that some Republicans accused of collecting donations from conservative donors and then using it to pay consultants and overhead.
Zinke has replaced as many as a third of the experts and career employees at Interior with political appointees who are loyal to him, according to the Huffington Post,
His politics such as supporting hydraulic fracking to get oil even though it raises serious environmental issues and increases global warming is another of his many anti-conservation, politically motivated policies.
Wearing a cowboy hat, Zinke gave a press conference during his July trip to talk about how what he does and his questionable travel are all good for America and conservation efforts.
Like Trump, Zinke is, in reality, a disaster for America and the environment, and he has surrounded himself with a team that is just as untrustworthy as he is, wreaking havoc that will take generations to correct if can ever be reversed.