President Trump’s cabinet has come under intense criticism in recent days-prompting responses from the Treasury Department and the Health and Human Services Department-for using private charter planes for official travel, as opposed to commercial flights.
According to a recent report by Fox News, officials in the Obama administration took pricey flights using taxpayers’ money, as well, including flights for personal business.
According to the report, during former President Barack Obama’s terms in the White House, both then-attorney generals Eric Holder and Loretta Lynch used non-commercial planes for travel, as did then-FBI director Robert Mueller and CIA director and defense secretary Leon Panetta.
Current Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Tom Price apologized Wednesday evening for chartering private planes for official government and personal business, paid for by taxpayers. He maintained that while all travel was approved by HHS officials and legal, he initiated an official review of travel procedures in order to determine if any changes to the protocol are necessary.
Price acknowledged that the matter was concerning to taxpayers, however, and said he would no longer take private charter flights before vowing to immediately reimburse the U.S. Treasury for his private charter travel.
“The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for my seat on those planes,” he said.
The HHS secretary is not required to use non-commercial planes as are the defense secretary and others, due to security and communications concerns. Yet critics have questioned whether some Obama administration officials could have found “more cost-effective options,” and whether all the trips they took were essential to the job.
The following instances are examples of questionable expenses/trips, according to the report:
- Holder – In 2014, while attorney general, he, his daughters, their boyfriends and two security officers boarded a government-owned Gulfstream jet and flew to the Belmont Stakes Thoroughbred horse race in New York. The Daily Caller, citing the Department of Justice, reported that the trip cost the government $14,440, yet Holder only had to reimburse the government $955 for that flight.
- Panetta, who served as both CIA director and defense secretary during the Obama years, used a government airplane to commute back and forth from Washington to California to visit his family nearly every weekend, at taxpayer expense. The Washington Times reported then that each flight cost about $32,000 but Panetta only had to pay $630 per trip. Panetta had the approval of Obama to fly home every weekend.
- Lynch, who served as attorney general in the Obama administration, met with former President Bill Clinton on June 27, 2016, at Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport, during the presidential election. Her meeting with the former president came as his wife, twice-failed presidential candidate Hillary Clinton, was being investigated by the FBI. The 45-minute encounter on Lynch’s plane, therefore, stirred up controversy. Lynch later said she regretted the encounter due to “optics.”
Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, the ranking member on the Senate Judiciary Committee, criticized Holder and Mueller for their use of expensive Gulfstream V jets for personal travel.
Mueller’s travel, reportedly, cost nearly $5.8 million, of which the former FBI director reimbursed roughly $4,500.
“Nobody disputes that the attorney general and the FBI director should have access to the secure communications, but, for instance, there’s no reason they can’t take a less expensive mode of transportation, or cut their personal travel,” Grassley reportedly said.
In contrast, according to statistics provided by a senior administration official, the Trump White House has authorized only 77 trips on military planes for senior officials in the first eight months in office. The Obama administration authorized 94 in the same time-period.
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