Washington (CNN)Interior Secretary Ryan Zinkehas mixed official company with political activities and visits home,raising questions about the appropriateness of their excursions and whether any ethics rules are violated.
Traveling by Cabinet officials was under the microscope since then-Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was found to take personal flights costing hundreds of thousands of dollars and resigned. Nevertheless, it’s not just the cost of personal travel that has ethics officials looking at the schedule of Zinke.
Only weeks after officially becoming interior secretary, Zinke traveled on March 30 into the US Virgin Islands for official business. He attended a series of a party fundraiser that cost between $ 75 to $ in addition to meetings with government officials and officials.
In May, Zinke tacked on a political event to some multi-day work trip in Alaska. On May 31, following times of meeting with business leaders, government officials, veterans and native classes, Zinke attended a campaign lobby for Republican Rep. Don Young of Alaska. Matt Shuckerow, Young’s campaign spokesman, said Zinke was there for 15 to 20 minutes and he gave remarks.
“Everything related to Congressman Young’s event was done by the publication,” Shuckerow said. “Did the effort seek out the guidance of the Interior Department’s ethics employees ahead of the event, it took concerted efforts to follow their strict guidance.”
Shuckerow also told CNN Zinke’s attendance wasn’t supported in advance or promoted to guests on invitations or other formal communications and, in the event, the secretary wasn’t referred to by his name at his request. Shuckerow added, “There were no costs related to entrance or attendance by guests.” It’s uncertain if there were no additional costs related to getting Zinke into the event and that paid for it.
CNN has asked the Interior Department whether parts of this trip that involved political activities were allocated and allocated by an entity aside from the federal authorities. The agency hasn’t responded.
Federal law does not ban political action but it does restrict certain political activities by federal employees, which is meant to ensure that programs are administered in a nonpartisan fashion and protect employees from political coercion in the workplace, according to the Office of Special Counsel’s website.
Those excursions are in addition to some widely reported trip to Las Vegas, where Zinke met together with all the Vegas Golden Knights baseball team, owned by billionaire businessman Bill Foley, whom Zinke called “a significant donor” when he was running for Congress in 2014.
It remains unclear whether any laws were broken, but ethics watchdog groups say Zinke’s official journey mixed with political action are in the very least evil optics.
“For a secretary of a department you would think the first focus from the initial year in office would be receiving the department organized and initiatives cared for,” said Virginia Canter, the executive branch ethics counselor for Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington. “What’s a bit odd here is so fast after getting into office Zinke is fast engaged in political action. It’s a distraction.”
At a joint announcement, Melinda Loftin, director of the division’s ethics division, and Edward Keable, deputy solicitor, compose, “The Scheduling Office meets regularly with the Departmental Ethics Office and the Division of General Law to ensure that all travel is thoroughly assessed and approved in advance and that it is fully compliant with all pertinent laws, rules, and regulations.”
Ethics experts say Zinke can engage in certain political activities in case his name as secretary isn’t used and he does not use any government tools. They could speak at fundraisers although Federal employees can’t fundraise. There are no allegations which Zinke either used his name or increased funds
But the question ethics watchdogs are raising is whether it’s a little too coincidental that his official duties are coinciding with his political activities.
“Is he using the official journey to subsidize his political action?” Requested Canter. “You have to stick to a very specific formulation to make certain if you’re on official business the money is allocated in accordance with the regulations.”
House Democrats who sit on the committee which manages the Interior Department wrote a letter to the inspector general
also raising concerns about Zinke’s mixture of political activities and official company.
Watchdogs question excursions dwelling
Ethics watchdogs question whether official company was scheduled in a way that would enable Zinke to regularly visit his home in Montana.
Records show of six excursions into Zinke’s home state three or more times included time in his home from March to August.
An Interior Department official calls such allegations “ridiculous,” noting the country is filled with department “lands, offices, and resources.”
On March 9, Zinke took a 4:08 pm flight from Washington into a airport about 23 minutes from his Montana home, according to his Interior Department schedule. He spent at home, after coming in his home state. The following day he spent four hours in Glacier National Park which included meetings with park staff. His schedule states by 1:00 pm where he spent the remainder of the day he had been en route to come home. He remained in Missoula and then left on the March 11 to create another stop in a different part of Montana.
On May 12, Zinke returned to Montana. Zinke’s schedule says he had encounters with energy producers and leaders and a horseback tour of a mine together with Vice President Mike Pence on May 12. Zinke attended a rally for congressional candidate Greg Gianforte who ran for the seat Zinke left to direct the Interior Department, later that evening. An image tweeted from Zinke’s official Twitter accounts shows him with Pence and Gianforte together with the caption “rallying the grassroots.”
The next day Saturday, May 13, Zinke took a personal day, spending the night in his home in Whitefish. His schedule indicates he used a car that he paid for himself.
On the afternoon of June 27, Zinke was again in Whitefish where he gave a speech to the Western Governors’ Association, a bipartisan group. That afternoon he visited the nearby Glacier National Park for a photo shoot with GQ magazine along with a meeting with Outdoor magazine, and afterwards attended what his schedule notes was a “Wildlife Encounter Discussion.” That evening Zinke would spend the evening and next morning in his home in Whitefish, according to his schedule.
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