November 7, 2018 / 5:38 PM / 10 days ago

Trump praises Interior's Zinke, but vows to look at ethics allegations

FILE PHOTO: U.S. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke testifies before a Senate Appropriations Interior, Environment and Related Agencies Subcommittee hearing on the FY2019 funding request and budget justification for the Interior Department, on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., May 10, 2018. REUTERS/Yuri Gripas/File Photo

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - U.S. President Donald Trump on Wednesday praised Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who has come under scrutiny for his use of a security detail, chartered flights and a real estate deal, but seemed to leave open the possibility of replacing him.

“We’re looking at that, and I do want to study whatever is being said. I think he’s doing an excellent job, but we will take a look at that in a very strong - and we’ll probably have an idea about that in about a week,” Trump told reporters.

Last month the Interior Department’s acting inspector general referred a probe into Zinke’s conduct to the U.S. Department of Justice, increasing the chances of a criminal investigation.

The investigation is expected to involve a Montana real estate deal involving a foundation set up by Zinke and a development group backed by David Lesar, the chairman of oil service company Halliburton Co.

A Lesar spokeswoman has said that his personal investment had nothing to do with Halliburton and that the company was confident it would not influence the Interior Department.

The inspector general’s office at Interior has also probed Zinke over several ethics allegations. The department’s watchdog agency said last month that Zinke’s sending of a security detail to Turkey and Greece to protect him and his wife cost taxpayers over $25,000.

Zinke has said he did not ask the security detail to travel with him.

Probes into Zinke’s behavior follow ethics investigations into several Trump administration officials, including Scott Pruitt, who stepped down as the head of the Environmental Protection Agency in July, and Tom Price, who resigned as Health and Human Services secretary in September 2017.

Reporting by Jeff Mason and Timothy Gardner; writing by Makini Brice, editing by G Crosse

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