As embarrassing headlines on former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price’s private plane usage dominated the news cycle, Secretary of Energy Rick Perry felt it was just fine and dandy to charter his own private jet for a trip from Pennsylvania to Ohio on September 28. That would be just one day before Price would resign.
Secretary Perry took the plane on a trip to a decommissioned uranium facility in Piketon, Ohio. A spokesmen from the aviation company declined to comment on the cost of the trip and, at the time of publication, Perry’s team has not yet responded.
On September 29th, Price resigned after Politico reported he had traveled by private plane at least 24 times, costing taxpayers an excess of $300,000. Politico later discovered that, including other trips involving the use of military jets and commercial flights for his wife and staff to travel to Asia and Europe, Price had rung up a bill of over $1 million in total.
Price said he will reimburse taxpayers $51,887.31, however this fraction of the cost will only cover his own seats on the planes. Though the overseas trips did involve HHS missions, prior to his resignation, Price admitted he regretted “the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars.”
Nine months in and it seems excessive private travel will be among one of the more recognizable legacies of the Trump administration. Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, head of the Environmental Protection Agency Scott Pruitt, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin have also found themselves under the glaring spotlight of public scrutiny for chartering their own private jets or using government planes on trips that have fishy connections to their official duties.
Zinke cost taxpayers $12,375 for a trip from Las Vegas to his private home in Kalispell, Montana. This came on top of more flights to the U.S. Virgin Islands, with figures not yet privy to the public. According to The Washington Post, traveling from Las Vegas to Montana costs $300 on commercial flights.
Pruitt has come under fire for his use of more than $58,000 worth of chartered and military flights to Cincinnati, New York and Italy, of which the White House claims there were “no viable commercial flights.”
Mnuchin, for his part, has openly admitted to his use of private jets. On August 21st, Mnuchin and his wife took a government jet to Fort Knox to take in a good viewing of the Solar Eclipse. Mnuchin also flew on a government jet from New York City to Washington D.C. — “one of the most well-connected travel routes” — and requested the use of another government plane for his European honeymoon. Though Mnuchin received a great deal of backlash after his wife posted a photo on Instagram of the dynamic duo stepping off the plane (Linton also tagged the luxury designers she was wearing and told off a critic), he refuses to commit to using commercial travel.
"I can promise the American taxpayer that the only time that I will be using [military air] is when there are issues either for national security or we have to get to various different things where there's no other means," he said on CBS "This Morning" on September 28, the same day Perry took his private flight.
Oh, and it was revealed on Thursday — yes, today — that Counselor to the President Kellyanne Conway was allegedly a member on at least one of these flights.
At this present moment in time, The Office of Inspector General is in the middle of an investigation into the exorbitant cost of Zinke’s private travel that has become a trend among what seems to be the whole administration.
On top of the continuing controversies involving his cabinet members, President Trump himself has been scrutinized for what many claim is excessive vacationing. Nine months into his first term, the 45th President has spent a total of 68 days at his golf clubs. According to the Freedom of Information Act request filed by Judicial Watch, using Air Force One costs around $200,000 to operate per hour, which results in an estimated $3 million per travel weekend. Just one month into his term, Trump’s travel itinerary cost around $10 million.
When questioned by a journalist at Thursday’s White House press briefing, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders attempted to justify Trump’s traveling.
“The President is in a very different position, he’s not allowed to travel in a different way other than in a secure airplane,” Sanders said. “The president certainly hasn’t been there every weekend, and every weekend that he’s traveling, no matter where he is, the president is working.”