Sep 29, 2017

The Trump officials caught splurging on luxury travel

From left: Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin, EPA Administration Scott Pruitt, HHS Secretary Tom Price, VA Secretary David Shulkin, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke. Photos: AP

Tom Price's pricey private flights unleashed a number of stories about other Trump administration officials flying charter, military or private on taxpayers' dime.

Get smart: Don't expect the uproar over these Trump officials' travels to dissipate quickly. As Axios' Sam Baker and Jonathan Swan note: Democrats smell blood. And Republicans will have a hard time ignoring the millions spent on luxury travel.

Tom Price, Health and Human Services Secretary

  • The flights: $500,000 in military flights to Africa, Asia and Europe (which were approved by the White House) and more than $400,000 in charter flights.
  • Total cost: His travel has exceeded $1 million, Politico reports, when accounting for both his overseas trips and the more than two dozen domestic trips he's taken on private planes since May.
  • Price's "reimbursement": Price said Thursday that he will reimburse the government for the cost of his own seat on his domestic trips via private jet, reportedly around $52,000, but that would not include the cost of the military flights.
  • Where things stand: Price resigned on Friday.
Scott Pruitt, Environmental Protection Agency administrator
  • The flights: A June 7 military flight to Ohio then New York ($36,068); a July 27 charter flight from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to Guymon, Oklahoma ($14,434); an August 4 charter flight from Denver, Colorado, to Durango, ColoradoA ($5,719); an August 9 flight on the North Dakota governor's plane ($2,144).
  • Total cost: Pruitt took "non-commercial" flights costing taxpayers more than $58,000, according to CBS News.
  • The EPA's defense: "When the administrator travels, he takes commercial flights," EPA spokeswoman Liz Bowman told the Washington Post Wednesday, adding that the one charter flight and three government flights were due to particular circumstances.
  • Where things stand: Last month, the EPA's inspector general announced it was launching a preliminary probe into Pruitt's travels to Oklahoma.
Steve Mnuchin, Treasury Secretary
  • The flights: Mnuchin requested a government jet earlier this year for his honeymoon, according to ABC News. He and his wife also used a government jet when traveling to Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky, which coincided with the eclipse.
  • Total cost: An Air Force spokesman told ABC News that a government jet typically costs roughly $25,000 per hour to operate.
  • Mnuchin's defense: Mnuchin told Politico's Ben White that the honeymoon story was "misreported" and the use of such a plane would only be for "national security" purposes. He also denied that his Kentucky trip had anything to do with watching the eclipse.
  • Where things stand: Mnuchin later withdrew the plane request for his honeymoon. Meanwhile, the Treasury Department's Inspector General is reviewing his Kentucky trip.
Ryan Zinke, Secretary of the Interior
  • The flights: Zinke and his aides have reportedly taken several flights on private or military aircraft, including a $12,000 charter flight — which belongs to Nielson & Associates, a Wyoming-based oil-and-gas exploration firm — from Las Vegas to his hometown in Montana, and private flights between St. Croix and St. Thomas in U.S. Virgin Islands, per the Washington Post.
  • Total cost: Unclear, as the total number of charter or military flights is unknown.
  • The Interior's defense: Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said those trips were booked only after officials failed to find commercial flights that would accommodate Zinke's schedule. She added that they all were "pre-cleared by career officials in the ethics office," per Politico.
  • Zinke's defense: "All this travel was done only after it was determined by multiple career officials at the department that no commercial options existed to meet the promulgated scheduled," Zinke said. "The flights were only booked after extensive due diligence by the career professionals in the department's general law and ethics division."
  • Where things stand: The Interior Department said in a statement to the Huffington Post Friday that Zinke's travel "was completely compliant with all applicable laws, rules, and regulations."
David Shulkin, Secretary of Veterans Affairs
  • The flights/luxury purchases: Although Shulkin flew commercial to Europe for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans' health issues in July, he did use government funds to fly his wife out, stating that she was traveling on "approved invitational orders," per the Washington Post. The government also provided a stipend for her meals. They also attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey, and took a cruise on the Thames.
  • The VA's defense: All of Shulkin's activities on the trip, including Wimbledon visit, "were reviewed and approved by ethics counsel," VA press secretary Curt Cashour said in a statement.
  • Where things stand: In response to questions from The Post, the VA announced Friday that they'll start posting details of the Shulkin's travel online, and disclose any use of government or private aircraft. This information was never previously public.

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Photo: Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images

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What we're hearing: "The next 4-8 weeks is really going to decide whether Trump gets reelected," Stephen Moore, Trump's former nominee for the Federal Reserve board, told Axios. If the administration mishandles its economic recovery efforts, he said, Trump is "in big trouble."

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Illustration: Aïda Amer/Axios

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  5. 2020 latest: Top conservative leaders are concerned the Trump administration isn't addressing the virus' long-term economic impact.
  6. States latest: FEMA has asked governors to decide if they want testing sites to be under state or federal control.
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Federal court temporarily blocks coronavirus order against some abortions

Gov. Greg Abbott. Photo: Tom Fox-Pool/Getty Images

A federal judge ruled Thursday that clinics in Texas can immediately offer medication abortions — a pregnancy termination method administered by pill — and can also provide the procedure to patients nearing the state's time limits for abortions.

Driving the news: The decision comes after federal appeals court ruled 2-1 on Tuesday in favor of an executive order by Republican Gov. Greg Abbott that prohibits abortions during the coronavirus outbreak.

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