WASHINGTON – Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke said Tuesday that questions about him spending too much on travel and on doors for his office were “misleading” and “innuendos,” but senators want him to explain more about the expenses.
A flashpoint was the revelation last week that three pairs of new doors for Zinke's office would cost $139,000.
Zinke has also been criticized for travel such as a $12,375 flight in June from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana. He spent more than $53,000 on three helicopter trips last summer, including one that returned him to Washington in time to take a horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence, according to The Associated Press.
But Zinke bristled at questions about his travel and office expenses during a Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee hearing about his department's $11.7 billion budget for the year starting Oct. 1.
“While my constituents are hearing about private jet rides and expensive doors, they want to understand why someone is proposing to raise park fees” $215 million per year, said Sen. Maria Cantwell of Washington, the panel's top Democrat. “I've heard from many Washingtonians and they are concerned that they won't be able to afford going to the National Park and that these fees are absurd.”
Zinke replied that the previous secretary, Sally Jewel, took 80 trips costing $1 million, which was justified as part of the job visiting remote lands. And he said he only took flights on propeller planes, not jets.
“Well, first, insults and innuendos are misleading,” Zinke said. “I never took a private jet anywhere.”
More about Interior doors: Doors to Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke's office are getting a nearly $139,000 upgrade
The doors are part of a renovation project at the department’s 1936 headquarters that began before Zinke took office in March 2017. The $138,670 contract is for demolition, installation, materials for the fiberglass doors and labor. The contract was approved last month, and work was scheduled for the summer.
Zinke called the questions about spending misleading and insulting.
“I resent the fact of your insults. I resent the fact they're misleading,” Zinke said. “I resent the fact of the doors, and I'll go through line by line.”
He never got around to itemizing expenses. But Cantwell said the department’s inspector general is reviewing the spending and senators would pose questions in writing to get answers.
“I guess we'll ask you in writing and maybe we'll get an answer,” Cantwell said. “And the reason why we are is because of our citizens who want to know why their park fees are going up and they're reading these stories.”