Donald Trump’s Cabinet, the richest assembly of “public servants” in any Cabinet in history, likes nice things. Last week, Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price apologized for spending some $400,000 of taxpayer money on unnecessary charter flights; then hours later it was revealed he spent an additional $500,000-plus on military flights to Europe. That was enough to boot the former congressman from the Cabinet. On Thursday, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin was in the spotlight again for his liberal use of America’s fleet of military planes with the New York Times reporting the former Goldman Sachs banker has burned through more than $800,000 in military aircraft usage since taking over the Treasury Department.
Treasury secretaries, like most non-national security Cabinet-level positions, typically fly commercial airlines, other than in unusual circumstances, because of the extreme cost of using a military plane. For instance, of the seven military flights Mnuchin is known to have taken, each cost tens of thousands of dollars. There was the $15,000 round-trip August flight to New York to meet with President Trump at Trump Tower and, of course, the $43,725 June flight to Miami to meet with Mexico’s finance minister.
The price tag of Mnuchin’s travel comes courtesy of an inquiry by the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General, which, was launched after Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, posted a gaudily hashtagged pic of the couple getting off a U.S. military plane after a day trip to Kentucky to watch the recent eclipse within the path of totality—and do something or another work-related in order to expense the trip. The investigation didn’t find that the Treasury Secretary had broken any laws by over-indulging in military plane usage, but that Mnuchin’s justification for needing to use the aircraft was, well, a stretch. “What is of concern is a disconnect between the standard of proof called for [by the Office of Management and Budget] and the actual amount of proof provided by Treasury and accepted by the White House in justifying these trip requests,” the inspector general’s report reads.
The rationale deployed by Mnuchin to justify using a military plane usually revolves around his need to make a secure phone call of some sort. In some cases, like Mnuchin and Linton’s sun-gazing trip to Kentucky, the justification was even more flimsy. From the Times:
The report found that “there is no indication that the date was chosen to coincide with the solar eclipse.” It said that Mr. Mnuchin had asked for a Gulfstream 550 military jet in case the runway at Fort Knox was wet and because a plane with “communications capabilities is requested in the event that the secretary’s participation on a call during travel arises.” The flight cost $26,900.25.
The latest on Mnuchin’s travel habits comes after other members of Trump’s Cabinet have indulged in some questionable travel. “Ryan Zinke, the interior secretary, used a chartered airplane for several flights, including a $12,000 trip to deliver a speech celebrating a new professional hockey team in Las Vegas," according to the Times. "Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, has spent more than $58,000 on chartered and military flights, and David Shulkin, the veterans affairs secretary, took his wife on a 10-day trip to Europe that mixed business meetings and sightseeing, according to The Washington Post.”