Seems like not a week goes by without some major controversy erupting within the Trump administration. Last week saw the near resignation or firing of Secretary of State Rex Tillerson for supposedly calling President Trump a “moron,” while it was goodbye to Health and Human Services chief Tom Price for his million-dollar abuse of private air services to buzz around the world. It is exactly that same abuse of private air services now plaguing Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and, one must wonder, is Zinke circling the drain due to his own possible abuse of taxpayer funds?

The strange thing about all these abuses by Trump administration officials is that a core contention of the Republican Party is that government spends too much money too freely without concern for the taxpayers from which those funds derive. Remember Republican promises to let you “keep more money in your pocket” instead of sending it in to the government? I guess that commitment ends when the last of their gullible voters casts the ballots that put them in office.

Zinke abandoned it when he squandered $12,375 chartering an oil company plane (how perfect) for a late-night flight from Las Vegas to Montana in June. Zinke has rationalized it by saying there were no commercial flights available at that time and he had to go because he was slated to give a speech to the Western Governors’ Association. What he doesn’t say is that he was in Vegas doing nothing more than visiting a hockey team owned by one of his fat cat campaign contributors. In other words, there’s absolutely no reason he couldn’t have scheduled a vastly cheaper commercial flight.

And then there were the military flights with Ag Secretary Sonny Purdue and the private plane trips to Alaska and the Virgin Islands, all of which Zinke says were “official business” — which apparently means he can spend extravagantly on private air services.

For his part, Zinke says the investigation into the expenditures, which has now been taken up by two congressional committees, is “complete and utter bulls---.” But the independent Office of Special Counsel is also investigating the issue since it’s possible Zinke’s speech to the hockey team violated the Hatch Act, which bans executive branch officials from political activities.

None of this is good news for Zinke. In fact, his actions are so embarrassing to fellow Montanans that the Montana Standard has already editorialized chastising him for the abuses and hoping he will change and “make Montana proud.”

This must be weighing on Zinke, as evidenced by his recent statement that he is “above the law.” One must think he didn’t really mean that, but then again “Freudian slips” are so named because sometimes the truth just pops out unintentionally. And truth is one of the rarest commodities in the Trump administration, which sets new records daily for flat-out lies.

Meanwhile, on the West Coast, environmentalists just held an informal rechristening of vault toilets on public lands as “Zinkes” and urged the public to take a “stinky Zinke” in his honor, saying “we’d like to remind Secretary Zinke to stop treating our public lands like crap.”

None of this is particularly great for Zinke. But when he lamented that “I got 30 percent of the crew that’s not loyal to the flag,” he must have forgotten that his oath of office is to the U.S. Constitution, not the flag or the goofball in the White House. Loyalty, as you should know, Secretary Zinke, is earned — something to remember while circling the drain.

George Ochenski's column appears each Monday on the Missoulian's Opinion page. He can be reached by email at

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