How three top Trump administration officials have drawn scrutiny for their travel
From L to R: Steven Mnuchin (Photo Credit: US Treasury Department); Tom Price (Photo Credit: US Department of Health and Human Services); Scott Pruitt (Photo Credit: US Environmental Protection Agency)(WASHINGTON) — President Donald Trump expressed his dissatisfaction Wednesday with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price as Price faces multiple investigations into his use of chartered aircraft for government travel.
“I’m not happy about it, and I will let him know it,” said Trump, who also answered, “We’ll see,” when asked by reporters if he would fire Price.
The HHS secretary is just one of three Trump administration officials who have drawn particular scrutiny in recent weeks for their use of private planes at taxpayer expense. In response, the House Oversight Committee initiated an inquiry into federal agency travel Wednesday. The committee has asked the White House and all 24 federal agencies to account for all senior officials’ travel since the inauguration by Oct. 10.
Here’s a look at the current trio of controversies:
Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin
On Sept. 13, ABC News was the first to report that Mnuchin requested the use of government plane to fly him and his wife, actress Louise Linton, to Europe for their honeymoon over the summer. The request led to an inquiry by the Treasury Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
Mnuchin later defended the action, claiming that a government jet would have provided him with a secure line of communication back to the United States, and therefore the request was in the interest of “national security.” Officials familiar with the request characterized it as unusual and it was ultimately withdrawn.
The Air Force says it costs roughly $25,000 an hour to operate its C-37, the military’s equivalent to a Gulfstream jet. It charges outside agencies roughly 10,000 an hour to fly in one.
The probe into the honeymoon jet request was the second instance of Mnuchin drawing the scrutiny of his department’s inspector general. When the news emerged about the Europe trip, the secretary was already the subject of an inquiry after he and Linton traveled to Kentucky on Aug. 21, the day of the total solar eclipse.
A Treasury Department spokesperson portrayed timing of the trip and the eclipse’s path through Kentucky that day as coincidental at the time, saying “the eclipse did not even factor in the travel decision.”
The trip received additional publicity due to an Instagram post by Linton that showed her and Mnuchin walking down the stairs of their government plane including hashtags of the designer brands she was wearing. After receiving criticism in the form of a comment on the photograph, Linton responded, writing, “Aw!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable! Did you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol.”
HHS Secretary Tom Price
Price’s trips aboard chartered private jets were first revealed by Politico last week in a story that reported the secretary took five flights aboard such planes in the preceding week, eschewing commercial flights or travel by train or car, which could have saved tens of thousands of dollars.
A spokesperson for Price explained that “every possible source for travel needs” is checked “but commercial travel is not always feasible.”
Politico later reported the number of private flights taken by Price this year was as many as 24 with an estimated cost of over $400,000 and that the secretary partook in personal business on some including visits with friends and family, on some of the trips.
In the wake of the news, the Democratic ranking members of five congressional committees called upon the Health and Human Services Office of Inspector General last week to investigate the matter. A spokesperson for the inspector general confirmed last week that an investigation was underway, that the office was taking the matter “very seriously” and that the scope of the inquiry could expand, if necessary.
Trump’s comments on Wednesday were the first public indication that he did not have full confidence in Price in the wake of the news.
“I will tell you, personally, I’m not happy about it,” said the president.
EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt
On Wednesday, the Environmental Protection Agency confirmed that Pruitt flew aboard one charter flight and three government flights. The EPA was one of the agencies that had been asked to provide information about senior officials’ travel to Congress.
Pruitt’s travel totaled more than $58,000 and included a military flight to Ohio, an interagency charter in Oklahoma, a private flight in Colorado and a trip aboard a plane owned by the state of North Dakota.
An EPA public affairs officer tweeted that aside from those four flights, Pruitt “flies commercial.”
The EPA inspector general initiated an audit of Pruitt’s travel earlier this year after travel expense documents were released showing frequent trips to Oklahoma, where Pruitt previously lived and served as state attorney general. The audit is currently ongoing.
Pruitt is also under scrutiny for installing a $25,000 private phone booth in his office he says he needs to make secure phone calls.
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