Pressure mounts on Trump cabinet members’ private jet use

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, center, a wealthy former Wall Street banker and Hollywood producer, is under pressure to justify use of a government plane to fly with his wife Louise Linton, right, to Kentucky in August
AFP

Washington (AFP) – Two members of President Donald Trump’s cabinet found themselves under mounting scrutiny Thursday amid revelations they used private jets for government travel costing US taxpayers hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Five Democratic lawmakers have called for the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price for what they described as “a gross misuse of public funds,” notably for spending $25,000 on a private roundtrip flight from Washington to nearby Philadelphia.

In all, Price has flown on 26 separate trips this year on expensive private aircraft, totaling some $400,000, according to Politico.

The trips were for government business, the health department said, but some of the flights were to destinations where Price owns property, or where he met relatives.

US government guidelines call for traveling officials to take scheduled commercial flights whenever possible.

Trump, delivering an unusual public rebuke Wednesday, did not rule out sacking his health secretary.

“We’ll see,” he said. “I will look into it, and I will tell you personally I’m not happy about it.”

Price’s two predecessors under president Barack Obama traveled almost exclusively on commercial flights, Politico reported.

During his time as a congressman from Georgia, Price routinely condemned the federal government for its “reckless spending.”

With some exceptions, US officials including most members of the cabinet “have to travel by the most cost-effective method,” Walter Shaub, the former director of the Office of Government Ethics who resigned over Trump’s conflicts of interest, told CNN.

The Washington Post also revealed that since February, Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt traveled three times on private jets and once on a military aircraft, costing tax-payers some $58,000.

The EPA’s Office of General Counsel gave advance legal authorization for each trip and said Price flies commercial except in particular circumstances, the Post reported, citing documents provided by the agency.

In August, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, a wealthy former Wall Street banker and Hollywood producer, was pressured to justify use of a government plane to fly with his wife to Kentucky, where viewing for that day’s total eclipse of the sun was ideal.

The trip was officially billed as a visit to the US gold reserve at Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Mnuchin apologized shortly after his wife, actress Louise Linton, posted a photo to Instagram that showed her descending with Mnuchin from the plane and included tags to her designer clothing and accessories.

The Treasury’s inspector general has launched an internal investigation.

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