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Nearly three days into a trip to Europe this past July, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin had attended a Wimbledon championship tennis match, toured Westminster Abbey and taken a cruise on the Thames.
The 10-day trip was not entirely a vacation. Shulkin was in Europe for meetings with Danish and British officials about veterans’ health issues, so taxpayers picked up part of the tab. Yet he and his wife spent about half their time sightseeing, including shopping and touring historic sites, according to an itinerary obtained by The Washington Post and confirmed by a U.S. official familiar with their activities. Today's Headlines newsletter The day's most important stories.
The federal government paid for the flights for Shulkin and his wife, Merle Bari, and provided a per-diem reimbursement for their meals and other expenses, VA said Friday. An agency spokesman did not respond to questions about why Bari qualified for the reimbursements and taxpayer-funded airfare, other than to say she was traveling on “approved invitational orders” and had “temporary duty” travel expenses.
Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke chartered a flight from Las Vegas to near his home in Montana this summer aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas executives, internal documents show. The flight, along with private flights during a trip to the Virgin Islands, could propel Zinke into the growing debate over the costs of travel by Cabinet secretaries, some of whom have chosen expensive charter jets and military planes at high expense to taxpayers over the cheaper option of flying commercial.
In June, Zinke and his staffers took a four-hour flight from Las Vegas to Kalispell, Mont., aboard a private plane owned by the executives of a Wyoming oil-and-gas exploration firm, aviation and business records show. The landing in Kalispell put Zinke a short drive from his home in Whitefish, Mont., where he spent the night, documents show. The flight cost taxpayers $12,375, according to an Interior Department spokeswoman. Commercial airlines run daily flights between the two airports and charge as little as $300. The new flight details show how Zinke has mixed political gatherings and personal destinations with his taxpayer-funded work as the head of a federal agency that manages or controls the vast majority of federal land. Interior Department spokeswoman Heather Swift said Zinke’s charter flights were authorized by ethics officials and booked only when feasible commercial flights were unavailable.
Previous interior secretaries flew charter flights when needed, Swift added. She did not provide documentation of the approvals. Zinke spoke the next day at the annual meeting of the Western Governors’ Association, Swift said, and no commercial flight was available that would have gotten Zinke and his staff from his Las Vegas speech to Montana on time. Tickets for Zinke and staffers were paid out of the department’s budget, Swift said.
The whole private jet debacle began just over a month ago, at the end of August, with Mnuchin, a former hedge fund manager, and his new wife, Louise Linton. Linton grabbed headlines after she posted a photo on Instagram bragging about her designer outfit and accessories. She subsequently clashed with a women on social media and insinuated she had sacrificed more for the U.S. because she was rich. But it was the photo that she posted that caught the attention of a watchdog group because it showed her and Mnuchin departing a government plane during a trip to Kentucky. Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington filed a Freedom of Information Act request for copies of records concerning authorization for, and the costs of, Mnuchin's use of a government plane to travel to Lexington, Ky.
Mnuchin's trip took place on Aug. 21, the same day as the total solar eclipse, and included a luncheon at the Louisville Chamber of Commerce with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and a visit to the gold bullion depository in Fort Knox, just south of Louisville. McConnell later posted a picture on Facebook saying he and Mnuchin watched the eclipse from the rooftop
CREW said the requested records would "shed light on the justification for Secretary Mnuchin's use of a government plane, rather than a commercial flight, for a trip that seems to have been planned around the solar eclipse and to enable the Secretary to secure a viewpoint in the path of the eclipse's totality."
Treasury Department officials have defended Mnuchin's viewing of the eclipse, saying that it was planned around "official government travel."
Mnuchin also raised eyebrows when reports revealed he inquired about using a military plane for his honeymoon in Europe over the summer -- a move he justified as being related to national security. He withdrew the request when he found another option. He also flew on a military jet back to Washington, D.C., following an appearance at Trump Tower in New York City last month. Mnuchin said he had a call lined up that needed to be secure. "There are times when I need secure communications to be in touch with the president and the National Security Council," Mnuchin said on ABC's "This Week."
“Hopefully he’s going to get the votes tomorrow to start our path toward killing this horrible thing known as Obamacare,” Trump said, before turning to Price.
“By the way, you gonna get the votes? He better get ’em,” Trump said, adding: “Otherwise, I’ll say: Tom, you’re fired.”