Ryan Zinke

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke arrives to speak about the Trump Administration's energy policy at the Heritage Foundation in Washington recently.

Associated Press

What's the difference between a little BS and a lot of BS?

A little BS — is how Secretary of The Interior Ryan Zinke described criticism directed at him for taking private flights to Montana, Las Vegas and the U.S. Virgin Islands.

A lot of BS — what we believe about Zinke's response to the reasonable questions about his travel.

Questions about Zinke's travel on the plane of an oil baron or other private flights may not be so different than those which ultimately pressured former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to resign.  

Apparently, spending more than $12,000 to jet home to Montana to spend the night is no big deal to Zinke who, in his brief time in Congress as the Treasure State's lone representative, railed against government waste and excess spending. 

A federal government that can't seem to find enough money for healthcare or education or roads can somehow find enough money for private jets for Zinke.

And while a couple of private flights may be entirely justifiable for a cabinet secretary, his brazen treatment of travel should raise some eyebrows. Zinke's response to the flap is also puzzling because Price had to resign because of a similar travel issue. You'd think a bit of contrition, even if forced, might help dampen the criticism. 

Again, these private plane expenditures may be entirely reasonable and justifiable — that's for the Inspector General to decide. Earlier this week, the inspector general announced it was probing Zinke's actions.

We're concerned that Zinke's attitude actually undercuts the promise of the president, and undermines the wishes of the majority of Montanans who voted for him. After all, it was Trump who promised to drain the swamp. But if this travel, like Price's, was taking advantage of perks, then Zinke becomes just another swamp lizard. 

When citizens hear of cabinet secretaries being whisked off in private jets to hobnob with owners of a National Hockey League club, or claiming to need to do business in the Virgin Islands, it raises eyebrows. We would think Trump's inner circle would be especially sensitive to the appearance and do everything they could to avoid it. 

Sadly, the swamp seems pretty full. 

Rather than simply disclosing the trips and their cost to the American taxpayers, the Interior Department has chosen not to disclose those amounts, only making it seem like there's more to hide.

An investigation by the Office of The Inspector General hasn't seemed to curb Zinke's recalcitrant attitude. On Monday, he doubled down, saying through a spokesperson that despite the investigation and criticism, he has no plans to pay back the cost of travel. 

Using an excuse like "there's no commercial flights available," is also flimsy. Of course there are flights to many of those places, even nearby his home in Whitefish (Kalispell). Amazingly, during Zinke's tenure as our congressman, he always managed to find a way back to Montana, even though he spent considerable time at a home in California.

What his spokesperson really meant was: There were no commercial jets flying at exactly the times Zinke wanted.

Pity him the inconvenience of commercial flights like the rest of us commoners.

Zinke has tried to fashion himself a Westerner in the mold of Teddy Roosevelt; a common-man son-of-a-plumber who would rather ride a horse to work than a car. But jetting around to hobnob with executives isn't exactly what most Montanans think of when we think "big sky."

If what Zinke said was true — that these episodes are really just a little BS — then, surely all the records from his travel (and its cost to taxpayers) would bear that out. Instead, we have Zinke engaging in the same kind of behavior that would have likely caused him to demand a congressional investigation while in the House of Representatives if this had been an Obama administration Cabinet member.

A story by the Associated Press said this wasn't the first time Zinke has been in trouble for his travel. It pointed out that Zinke had been criticized for improper travel expenses submitted when he was in the Navy.

He said in 2014, during a Congressional run, that he "learned a valuable lesson."

We hope that's true, because right now, all it seems he learned was not to fly coach. 

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