Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin's office pushed back Thursday after a published report said the secretary's travel aboard U.S. military aircraft last year had cost taxpayers roughly $1 million.
Documents obtained through a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request by Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) show Mnuchin took eight separate trips between the spring and fall of 2017, including a notorious visit to Fort Knox, Ky., with his wife, Louise Linton, that coincided with a solar eclipse.
Other officials in President Donald Trump’s Cabinet have also come under fire for their use of military and taxpayer-funded flights, which led to the resignation of former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Politco reported.
A spokesman for the Treasury said in a statement to Politico that “much of CREW’s ‘report' consists of falsehoods and mischaracterizations,” adding that Mnuchin’s hasn’t used a military aircraft since his trip to the Middle East last October.
“Even CREW concedes that the Secretary’s travel requests ‘bear a remarkable similarity' to the requests submitted by secretaries in the Obama Administration, using the same approval process and level of justification,” the statement said. “These documents explicitly demonstrate Treasury’s concern for being prudent with taxpayer dollars while fulfilling important departmental responsibilities.”
"Even CREW concedes that the Secretary’s travel requests ‘bear a remarkable similarity' to the requests submitted by secretaries in the Obama Administration, using the same approval process and level of justification."
According to CREW, the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) offered Mnuchin “alternative dates” for his trip to Kentucky, but the secretary opted for a date in which no FAA aircraft was available, resulting in a $33,046 price tag for the Aug. 21, 2017, trip aboard a military aircraft, according to the report.
“Secretary Mnuchin is one of a host of cabinet secretaries who collectively have incurred millions of dollars of airfare expenses just during the first year of the Trump administration,” the report says.
The secretary also attempted to use a military aircraft for his honeymoon trip to Europe, citing a need “to have access to secure communications,” before ultimately withdrawing his request, the report stated.
Despite Mnuchin’s use of government aircraft, Rich Delmar, counsel to the Treasury Department’s Office of Inspector General, found the secretary’s mode of travel “violated no law.” However, he noted a “disconnect” between the Treasury and the White House in terms of the process to justify the trips.
Unlike previous Treasury secretaries, CREW pointed out that Mnuchin “apparently has not made a single trip on a commercial aircraft.”
“(T)he public still has no reasonable explanation for why Secretary Mnuchin apparently has never used commercial aircraft, while his predecessors did; why his travel is not designed to minimize costs by, for example, scheduling confidential calls when he is not on a short domestic flight; or why he needs military aircraft that can accommodate 120 passengers when his travel manifests contain far fewer names,” the report read.