US Senator Maria Cantwell has called for an ethics investigation into whether US Secretary of the Interior Ryan Zinke misused government funds by using helicopters for trips to and from events within two hours of Washington, DC. Zinke has been a key ally with the US boating industry and has established a closer connection between government and the industry than any of his predecessors.

Politico. com reported last week that Zinke took several trips around the Washington, DC area by helicopter that was billed to the government for about US$14,000. One of the trips included a meeting with boating industry officials in West Virginia and a return flight to Washington so that he could join a horseback riding session with US Vice President Mike Pence. Zinke called the Politico and another story by the Associated Press “total fabrications and a wild departure from reality.” He said the trips included a visit to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia and a flyover of a power project in Virginia. He added that all his trips "were thoroughly vetted and scrutinized."

Cantwell asked the Department of Interior's inspector general to add the helicopter flights to its investigation of the secretary. The inspector general’s office is already looking into Zinke’s past mixing of official business with political events, including his use of a charter flight after speaking to a Las Vegas professional hockey team owned by a major donor. "If the Secretary misused public funds, he should write the Treasury a check for the full amount and apologize," said Cantwell. Cantwell is a ranking Democrat on the Senate Energy and Natural Resources Committee.