President Donald Trump on Sunday addressed the multiple controversies facing top officials in his administration over their chartering of private flights.
Asked about the controversy surrounding Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, whose August 15 use of a government jet from New York to Washington, DC, is under investigation, Trump said “he didn’t take the flight” although he added that “I don’t know much about it.”
“Oh, I don’t think he took the flight,” Trump said, according to a pool report. “I think if you check your records, he didn’t take the flight. Why don’t you check your records before you…”
The pool reporter cut in, adding that Mnuchin did indeed take the flight from New York to Washington, DC.
“Why don’t you check your records before you make a statement,” Trump continued. “As I understood it — I don’t know much about it — I haven’t heard about it, but I understand he never took that flight.”
Mnuchin’s use of the Air Force C-37 Jet cost taxpayers $US25,000. Trump’s Treasury secretary was asked about the ordeal during an interview with ABC News’ “This Week” on Sunday, saying that it was a necessary flight for national security purposes.
“There are times when I need secure communications to be in touch with the president and National Security Council,” Mnuchin said. “I had a secure call that day that was critical and set up. It needed to be done at that time, and that’s why I used it.”
In addition to that flight, which Mnuchin confirmed is under review, at least two other requests to charter flights are under review, ABC News reported.
“The inspector general is reviewing my travel,” Mnuchin said. “If there’s suggestions we’ll follow it.”
The Treasury Department’s review of Mnuchin’s travel began after it was revealed that he and his wife, Louise Linton, used a government plane to travel to Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky in August. Investigators are also looking into why Mnuchin made a request for a government jet for his honeymoon trip to Europe with Linton earlier in August.
Mnuchin has denied that he flew to Kentucky to watch the solar eclipse, which many have speculated was the reason for his trip to the Bluegrass State. A spokesperson for Mnuchin has said the honeymoon request was made in the name of national security, similarly to the New York flight, saying that a government plane was necessary so he could communicate securely with Washington officials.
In any case, Trump appeared to conflate the honeymoon request, which did not result in Mnuchin using a government plane, and the brief flight from New York to Washington, DC that Mnuchin took last month.
He did not, however, provide much defence for Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who is caught up in a nearly identical controversy.
“As far as Sec. Price is concerned, that’s different,” Trump said Sunday. “We’re looking into it.”
Price has come under fire for his frequent chartered flights, which can cost taxpayers more than $US25,000 each. Politico reported earlier this week that he opted for private travel over commercial flights 24 times since early May, including five such flights last week.
One was from Washington, DC to Philadelphia, just a 135-mile trip. Price’s trips also included flights to New Hampshire and a resort in Maine.
Before joining Trump’s administration, Price served as a Republican congressman from Georgia. As a member of Congress, he railed against what he called frivolous government spending, including similar private travel by fellow members.
Price too has come under review, as his department’s inspector general’s office is reviewing his use of private jets to see if they violated any government travel regulations.
On Saturday, Price told Fox News that he would cease chartering flights while that investigation is ongoing.
“We’ve heard the criticism,” Price said. We’ve heard the concerns, and we take that very seriously and have taken it to heart.”
Asked if he respects the inspector general investigations, Trump said, “Always. Always.”
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