Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s use of military aircraft has cost taxpayers nearly $1 million for eight trips, newly released documents show.
That includes a one-week trip to the Middle East in late October, which cost $183,646 for flights on military aircraft. That trip came on top of $811,797.81 in previously reported expenditures for government-funded military aircraft.
Emails and other documents were obtained by watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington through a Freedom of Information Act request. They corroborate information released in October by the Treasury Department’s inspector general about Mnuchin’s plane use.
Officials in President Donald Trump’s administration are facing scrutiny for their use of government-funded flights. EPA chief Scott Pruitt has drawn criticism for flying first class. And former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign last year after facing intense fire over his extensive use of taxpayer-funded charter flights.
“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,” CREW said in its report on the documents.
The group said the Treasury chief could schedule calls “when he is not on a short domestic flight“ and could potentially use smaller aircraft.
Treasury released the documents under FOIA until after CREW filed a lawsuit.
A Treasury spokesperson said Mnuchin had not requested any military aircraft since the Middle East trip. The official also emphasized that the Treasury inspector general in its October report said Mnuchin had not violated any laws.
The agency did encourage the Treasury secretary to provide more information to prove that he couldn’t use a regular commercial flight.
“Much of CREW’s ‘report‘ consists of falsehoods and mischaracterizations,“ Treasury said in a statement. “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.
“These documents explicitly demonstrate Treasury’s concern for being prudent with taxpayer dollars while fulfilling important departmental responsibilities,” the statement said.
On the Middle East trip, Trump’s son-in-law, Jared Kushner, was originally scheduled to fly with Mnuchin but was later removed from the flight manifest, CREW points out. Kushner visited Saudi Arabia on an unannounced trip via a commercial airline, POLITICO reported at the time. Then-deputy national security adviser Dina Powell flew with Mnuchin on the first leg of the trip, according to the flight manifest.
Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, was also included on the flight manifest, with a note saying that any non-governmental passengers would reimburse Treasury a total of $6,138.03.
Treasury first requested the aircraft on Aug. 31 “[d]ue to complexities of scheduling, logistics, costs, and secure communications needs during travel.” After the inspector general released its report and budget director Mick Mulvaney issued a memo on the administration’s travel policies, Treasury updated its request to note that it had conducted an “in-depth review of commercially available flights,“ according to the documents.