Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin responded to reports Thursday that he had requested a military jet to fly him and his wife, Louise Linton, to their European honeymoon this summer, a revelation that raised questions again about the wealthy couple’s use of government aircraft.
Mnuchin said his staff had explored the idea among a host of ways to ensure he had access to secure communications and information as he traveled aboard.
“Let me be clear. I’m very sensitive to the use of government funds. I’ve never asked the government to pay for my personal travel,” he said in an interview at an event hosted by Politico.
The U.S. Treasury Department supported Mnuchin’s account of the incident, saying in a statement Wednesday that the department withdrew its request “after a secure communications option was identified during the Secretary’s extended travel.”
The Treasury’s Office of Inspector General “is reviewing all requests for and use of government aircraft,” counsel Rich Delmar wrote in a statement to The Washington Post. He would not go into further detail or discuss reports about the request.
Mnuchin and Linton married in June.
The news of the request came as the White House and Republican leaders planned to reveal new details of their goal to cut corporate and individual taxes the week of Sept. 25.
Mnuchin on Thursday said the administration’s forthcoming plan would reduce tax bills for Americans with high incomes. Days before he had suggested some wealth Americans would see a tax decrease, but President Donald Trump a day later said taxes on the wealthy would stay where they are or could even get higher.
“Our objective is for them to not to have a tax cut,” Mnuchin said of top-earning Americans.
Mnuchin did not offer new details of Republicans’ upcoming proposal, which is expected to be released in late-September.
Both Mnuchin’s and Trump’s predictions are at odds with the projections of budget experts, who say the current ideas would disproportionately benefit the wealthiest 1 percent of Americans. Based on some details Trump and Mnuchin gave about their tax effort back in March, the Tax Policy Center estimated that half of all the benefits from Trump’s tax cut plan would go to the top 1 percent of all Americans.
But it has been the secretary’s travel that has garnered headlines, with the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General already reviewing a trip Mnuchin took to Kentucky.
Last month, Mnuchin and Linton took a government aircraft to Kentucky on a trip that involved viewing the solar eclipse, drawing wide condemnation and accusations that the former Goldman Sachs banker and Hollywood producer was using public funds for potentially voluntary travel as Trump seeks to rein in government waste.
The Kentucky trip ended within miles of the path of totality, the narrow band across the United States where the moon totally blotted out the sun during the solar eclipse. Mnuchin viewed it from one of the most restricted sites in the world: Fort Knox.
On Thursday, Mnuchin also addressed this controversy, saying the trip was to see Fort Knox and not the eclipse.
“People in Kentucky took this stuff very seriously. Being a New Yorker, I don’t have any interest in watching the eclipse,” he said.
Treasury officials have defended Mnuchin’s Kentucky visit as “official government travel” worthy of the flight aboard an Air Force jet, The Post reported.
“The Secretary of the Treasury at times needs to use a government aircraft to facilitate his travel schedule and to ensure uninterrupted access to secure communications,” a Treasury spokesperson said. “The Department of the Treasury sought and received the appropriate approval from the White House. Secretary Mnuchin has reimbursed the government for the cost of Ms. Linton’s travel in accordance with the long-standing policy regarding private citizens on military aircraft.”
Linton, an actress, drew intense scrutiny after she posted an Instagram glamour shot of herself deplaning and tagged a host of high-end designers such as Hermes and Valentino in the photo, then called a critic who was offended at the idea of publicly funded travel “adorably out of touch.”
Linton later apologized.
Delmar wrote in an August statement that Treasury’s Office of Inspector General was “reviewing the circumstances of the Secretary’s August 21 flight . . . to determine whether all applicable travel, ethics, and appropriation laws and policies were observed.”
“When our review is complete, we will advise the appropriate officials, in accordance with the Inspector General Act and established procedures,” Delmar added.
Treasury secretaries and other Cabinet members not involved with national security have traditionally flown on government planes only on rare occasions, The Post’s Harwell reported.
An Air Force spokesman told ABC News, which first reported the story, that the jet would cost $25,000 an hour to operate, though it is unclear if that included costs like maintenance and fuel. Government workers and troops on travel typically accrue costs for food and lodging.
(c) 2017, The Washington Post · Alex Horton, Damian Paletta