Trump Cabinet members under scrutiny for pricey trips and $31,000 dining sets

Posted on: March 17th, 2018 by ABC News No Comments

iStock/Thinkstock(WASHINGTON) — Several members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet are facing public criticism and government investigations over reports that they misspent taxpayer money on items ranging from pricey trips to Montana to $31,000 mahogany dining sets.

The White House has been critical of some of the spending and the president asked former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price to resign last September after the cost of his travel on private jets reached almost $1 million.

Here is ABC News’ latest reporting on the allegations and investigations into members of the president’s cabinet.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt has been under investigation for several allegations of misusing taxpayer funds.

The agency’s inspector general is looking into whether Pruitt’s travel in 2017 followed all proper procedures, including his frequent flights in first and business class. The agency confirmed that Pruitt often flies an upgraded class due to security concerns but Pruitt recently said he would direct his staff to find a new security plan that would include flying in coach.

The agency has also confirmed Pruitt took one chartered flight and several other flights on government planes totaling more than $58,000 between March and May of last year.

The agency watchdog’s review was originally prompted after documents reported in The New York Times showed that Pruitt traveled back to his home state of Oklahoma multiple times in his first few months as secretary.

The Government Accountability Office is also looking into the agency’s decision to install a “secure phone booth” in the administrator’s office. A contract for the “privacy booth” is listed at about $25,000 but newly released documents show that the cost of the booth and all the construction was closer to $43,000.

The EPA’s overall spending on Pruitt’s security is also under review. The agency spent $3,000 to have his office swept for listening devices in March and almost $2,500 to install biometric locks with fingerprint readers in Pruitt’s office the following month. The cost of his security detail has also been significantly higher than previous administrators because of an increased number of threats against him.

Senate Democrats recently asked the EPA to provide information on whether a member of his taxpayer-funded security team improperly steered the contract for the listening device sweep to a personal business associate. Other congressional Democrats have said Pruitt needs to answer questions about his travel and spending.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s travel has been under investigation after the department confirmed he took at least three charter flights between March and September, including a $12,000 charter flight from Las Vegas to Montana.

The department has said Zinke only took non-commercial flights when there were no other travel options available.

He also took three helicopter trips totaling more than $53,000, according to reporting by Politico.

The Department of the Interior inspector general’s report looking into Zinke’s travel is expected to be made public later this year.

Last week the department confirmed it planned to spend $139,000 to replace three sets of doors in Zinke’s office, saying the cost was higher because they had to protect the historical integrity of the building.

Zinke recently defended his spending in a congressional hearing on the department’s budget and said in another hearing the department has negotiated the cost of the doors down to about half that price.

Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Ben Carson

HUD Secretary Ben Carson has been under scrutiny the last few weeks after the department confirmed that it ordered a $31,000 dining set for the secretary’s office suite. Carson originally denied that he ordered the set but the agency confirmed that his wife, Candy, played a role in selecting it after a watchdog group obtained agency emails this week referencing her involvement.

There is a $5,000 legal limit on spending to redecorate the office for incoming cabinet secretaries. Any additional spending requires congressional approval.

Carson asked the department to cancel the order for the dining set.

Carson is also under investigation for including his son in a “listening tour” in Baltimore in June even after the agency’s attorneys warned him it could be a conflict of interest. Ben Carson Jr. is a businessman and investor in Maryland and a HUD attorney warned Secretary Carson that his son’s involvement in scheduling meetings with his business associated on the visit could look like Carson was using his position for his son’s private gain.

Both incidents have raised questions from members of Congress and watchdog groups about the Carson family’s involvement in official HUD business. The agency’s inspector general is looking into the Baltimore listening tour at the secretary’s request.

Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin

Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin spent $122,334 of taxpayer funds when he inappropriately accepted tickets to Wimbledon as a gift during a work trip to Europe last summer, according to a VA inspector general report. That report also found that Shulkin spent the majority of that 11-day trip sightseeing.

Shulkin has said that he will pay back some of the costs.

Shulkin was also under scrutiny for saying that he was “unaware” of issues that existed at the VA medical center in Washington, D.C., despite an interim inspector general report filed in April 2017.

He later admitted critical deficiencies likely existed at VA facilities across the country after the inspector general released a 144-page report last week detailing persistent problems at the Washington, D.C. facility.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price

Former HHS Secretary Tom Price was fired in September after reports that he often flew in private jets paid for by taxpayer dollars and that he mixed government work with personal business.
Price took military planes to Africa and Europe where he was accompanied by his wife. The estimated cost of all his travel on private and military planes was near $1 million from May to September, according to Politico.

He expressed regret shortly after he resigned and said he would reimburse the government for the cost of his travel on the 26 private flights. House Democrats confirmed last week that Price has repaid the federal government $60,000 for his use of private jets as secretary.

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