Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin spent $1 million of taxpayer money in nine months to fly aboard military jets and didn't even try to take commercial flights, according to a new report by an ethics watchdog group.
Citing records obtained through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA), the Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington said that Mnuchin had abused his access to military and private planes for both government and personal travel. The records showed that Mnuchin took eight flights between the spring and fall of 2017 at a cost of almost $1 million.
If true, the situation is literally three times worse than the scandal that forced Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price to resign over his private-jet use.
Mnuchin's predecessors flew aboard commercial planes. CREW wants Mnuchin to explain why he flew on military jets capable of seating 120 when commercial flights were available and he was traveling with far fewer people.
For example, Mnuchin scheduled a $26,953 flight to Miami last June, so he could attend a conference and panel with Mexico's finance minister. Records show the Treasury travel office sent him an internal memo saying "for your awareness, the cost per person on commercial air is approx.: $688 roundtrip." Mnuchin ended up taking a flight that cost even more — $45,000 — so he could get on a secure phone call. CREW noted Mnuchin could have simply rearranged his schedule.
“From the documents we obtained, it appears Secretary Mnuchin considers first and foremost his own comfort and ease, leaving the protection of taxpayer money at the bottom of his list of priorities,” said Anne Weismann, chief FOIA counsel for CREW.
It was previously reported that Mnuchin had requested a military jet to fly him and his wife, Louise Linton, to their honeymoon in Europe last August. He withdrew that request.
Mnuchin, whose net worth is $300 million, drew criticism for taking a military jet to Fort Knox, Kentucky, during the solar eclipse that was visible there. Mnuchin said he was going to "inspect the gold" at Fort Knox, not view the eclipse. "Let me be clear. I’m very sensitive to the use of government funds. I’ve never asked the government to pay for my personal travel,” he said in a September interview about the aborted honeymoon flight, adding that “the story was quite misreported."
The Trump administration is currently up to its neck in spending scandals. In January, Health & Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign when it emerged he had spent $300,000 on 24 flights aboard private charter planes. HUD chief Ben Carson spent over $31,000 on a dining set for his office; he initially denied involvement, but records showed he was aware. And EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt spent $45,000 to build a soundproof booth in his office, something his predecessors never had and a purchase that current and former officials call inexplicable.