Not just Tom Price: More and more Trump officials are flying high (UPDATE)
It’s getting pretty crowded in the swamp of Donald Trump’s Cabinet, especially when it comes to taking private and military jets using taxpayer money.
Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign after a Politico investigation found that he had spent taxpayer money on military and private chartered jets for travel, while past HHS secretaries had always flown commercial. He promised to repay $52,000 for his seats on those flights, even though the total cost of both the military and private jets was more than $1 million. Those trips included a visit to Nashville to have lunch with his son and a trip to St. Simons Island where he and his wife own property.
But the now-former HHS secretary is far from the only one in Trumpland flying the pricey skies. We also have:
- Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. There are now multiple reports about Zinke’s use of private jets. The first was a $12,000 trip in a chartered jet owned by an oil executive from Las Vegas, where he gave a motivational speech to a professional hockey team owned by Zinke’s largest donor, to his home in Montana for one night. Now, Politico is reporting that Zinke traveled more than a half-dozen times on taxpayer-funded chartered jets, mostly to meet with big donors or for campaign events, with a scant amount of official business thrown in. “Republican donors paid up to $5,000 per couple for a photo with Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke at a fundraiser held during a taxpayer-funded trip to the U.S. Virgin Islands,” Politico says.
- Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. Pruitt has spent more than $58,000 in taxpayer money on military and private jet travel. This is in addition to his 10-person, 24/7 security detail and his $25,000 soundproof booth. And this is the guy who wants to slash spending on saving the environment.
- Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. He requested the use (luckily he was turned down) of a military jet to take him and his new bride on their European honeymoon. But Mnuchin and his wife, “let-them-eat-cake” Louise Linton, still rode on a government plane to “inspect the gold” at Fort Knox, coincidentally on the same day that the best view of the solar eclipse was occurring over Tennessee. A Mnuchin spokesman claims that he has reimbursed the government for the cost of the travel.
- Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin. Shulkin is under review for extracurricular activities during a government-funded trip to Europe this summer, where he visited London and Denmark and took his wife along. Part of his trip was meeting with officials, but the couple took time to attend Wimbledon and take a Thames River Cruise.
Now, there is evidence that Energy Secretary Rick Perry used a private plane to travel from a coal mine in Pennsylvania to a decommissioned uranium facility in Ohio, where the industry is lobbying him to reopen it. Dude, the states are right next to each other, and commercial flights weren’t far away. And this trip was only one day before Price resigned, so there’s no way to pretend you didn’t know about the bad publicity and pressure to curtail private jet travel. Oops.
In addition, it is being reported that White House Senior Adviser Kellyanne Conway accompanied Price on many of his trips. Why would Conway be along for the ride, except possibly to get a free trip? She’s no expert on fighting the opioid epidemic, which was supposedly the reason for her inclusion.
Hey, at least Education Secretary Betsy DeVos flies on her own private jet when she travels.
You can’t really blame these officials — they were only following the lead of their boss. Donald Trump’s almost weekly trips to Mar-a-Lago this past winter and spring cost taxpayers about $3 million each, given the cost of flying Air Force One, extra Coast Guard security off the coast of Palm Beach, and more. The Secret Service has already exhausted its annual budget, having spent nearly $60,000 on golf cart rental alone at Trump properties.
Last May, House Democrats introduced the SWAMP Act, or the Stop Waste And Misuse by the President Act, in attempt to make Trump pay for his regular travel to Mar-a-Lago. Now it seems that the legislative proposal should have gone further, to cover Cabinet officials, too.
UPDATE: Add Transportation Secretary Elaine Chao to the list. She’s used government planes seven times this year. And new information shows that Mnuchin also took military planes seven times, at a cost of more than $800,000 to taxpayers.
There’s also a new total of how much Secret Service money went for golf cart rental at Trump properties: $137,000. Of course, all this money is paid directly to Trump businesses. Paid by U.S. taxpayers for protecting Donald Trump.
How much more swampy can you get?