Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s travels are still being investigated in an effort to determine whether they have violated any ethics rules. Namely, on several occasions Zinke mixed official business with visits to his hometown, as well as with political activities, which raises serious ethical questions.
His travels have been investigated for some time by Special Counsel Robert Mueller’s Office and by the Inspector General of the Interior Department. The investigation was opened when former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was discovered to have taken private flights with taxpayer money.
Both in March and May, Zinke traveled for official business to the Virgin Islands and Alaska, during which he also attended a Republican party fundraiser and Representative of Alaska Don Young’s campaign reception. Young’s campaign spokesperson said everything about the event was “done by the book” and Zinke’s attendance did not incur any costs. For now, it is unknown whether there were any other costs connected to getting Zinke to the event.
The Interior Department did not respond to inquiries about whether those parts of Zinke’s trip involving political activities were paid by any other entity other than the federal government, CNN reports.
Political activities are not banned by federal law but are restricted as a means to ensure that employees do not become involved in political coercion, says the Office of Special Counsel’s website.
It yet remains to be determined whether Zinke mixing official travels with political activities broke any laws, but at the very least they have been deemed as bad optics.
“What’s a bit unusual here is so quickly after getting into office Zinke is quickly engaged in political activity. It is a distraction,” said the executive branch ethics counsel for Citizens for Responsibility.