Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke on Tuesday pushed back on claims that he’s used tax-payer money to fly on private planes, telling a congressional committee, “I never took a private jet anywhere.”
Zinke said it was misleading to say he flew on private planes when he had flown on chartered King Air and prop planes.
Testifying in front of the Senate Natural Resources Committee on the Interior Department’s budget plan, Zinke argued that saying these were private jets were “insults and innuendos.”
Speaking to ranking member Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.), Zinke said of her questions on his private plane use, “I resent the fact of your insults, and I resent the fact that you mislead.”
A number of Zinke’s uses of chartered planes are under investigation by the Interior Department’s Office of Inspector General.
Zinke did not answer lingering questions regarding his use of a chartered plane to leave an appearance he made in Nevada to speak to the Las Vegas Golden Knights professional hockey team.
Zinke met with players on the hockey team at a hotel across the street from their practice facility last summer, a Golden Knights spokesman confirmed to CNN.
An Interior Department spokesperson said that Zinke’s late-night private flight to Montana from the Nevada meeting cost taxpayers $12,375. The spokesperson and Zinke have both maintained that the flight was booked after no suitable commercial alternative was available.
Zinke told the committee Tuesday that he had taken the flight “late at night after traveling all across Nevada.”
The secretary said that chartered plane use was not uncommon for Interior secretaries, commenting that Sally Jewell , the Interior secretary under President Obama, had also used chartered planes during her tenure.
“Sally Jewell, I think she was right. I think her travel patterns, even though she took a private charter airplane and took helicopters, as Interior secretary she was out hiking and doing what she was supposed to be doing,” Zinke told the committee.
Zinke went on to liken the questions on his plane use to “attacks” on his office but said he was used to them.
“I can take attacks on myself and my family,” he said. “We’re a military family … we live by ‘Do right, fear no man, wake up and make sure we are accountable.’ Everything I do is looked at through a whole legal team and office of ethics.”
The panel’s chairman, Rep. Rob Bishop (R-Utah), in October announced the probe into Zinke’s use of charter and military aircraft.
Bishop, along with Rep. Bruce Westerman (R-Ark.), sent a letter asking for details on use of various types of aircraft by the Trump administration official.
But the Republicans also said they would look at how extensively Zinke’s predecessors in the Obama administration — Jewell and Ken Salazar — used private and government planes.