WASHINGTON - An ethics organization in Washington accused U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday of bilking U.S. taxpayers by needlessly traveling on military and noncommercial jets to the tune of $1 million last year.
Documents obtained after a freedom of information lawsuit against the Treasury Department showed Mnuchin “apparently abused his access to military and non-commercial aircraft” for business and personal travel, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).
A Treasury spokesperson rejected the group’s findings, calling them falsehoods or mischaracterizations.
Travel with wife
Mnuchin, a former investment banker and Hollywood producer, came under scrutiny in August after he and his wife traveled aboard a government jet to visit the U.S. Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
Mnuchin’s wife, the actress Louise Linton, later apologized after lashing out at a social media user who had criticized her for advertising the high fashion brands she wore during the trip.
The couple also agreed to reimburse the government for the costs of her travel.
The following month Mnuchin reportedly requested the use of a military jet during the couple’s European honeymoon, but ultimately did not use the $25,000-per-hour plane.
Price resigns over travel
Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in September following media revelations he had also racked up $400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights.
“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,” Anne Weismann, CREW’s chief counsel, said in a statement.
According to CREW, records show that between the spring and fall of last year Mnuchin took eight separate trips by military aircraft at a total cost of $1 million.
Predecessors flew commercial
Mnuchin has not explained why he has not used commercial air travel, as his predecessors did, Weismann said.
The Treasury Secretary has said government aircraft allow him to send and receive sensitive national security information while traveling.
A department spokesperson told AFP Thursday that Mnuchin had followed the same approval process for the flights as prior Treasury secretaries.
An inspector general investigation had also reviewed the trips and found “no violation of law, regulation, or ethics requirements,” the spokesperson said.
“These documents explicitly demonstrate Treasury’s concern for being prudent with taxpayer dollars while fulfilling important departmental responsibilities.”