Trump’s Cabinet and charter flights: What we know and don’t know

Trump’s Cabinet and charter flights: What we know and don’t know
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Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceFive GOP lawmakers mulling bid to lead conservative caucus Overnight Health Care: Watchdog finds Tom Price improperly used funds on flights | Ex-Novartis CEO sent drug pricing proposal to Cohen | HHS staffers depart after controversial social media posts The Hill's 12:30 Report — Sponsored by Delta Air Lines — Mueller indicts 12 Russian officials for DNC hack | Trump does damage control after bombshell interview MORE resigned Friday following a series of public rebukes from President Trump and GOP lawmakers over his repeated use of charter and military aircraft, at public expense, for official travel.

Price is far from the only Cabinet member to take private flights however, so his resignation isn’t likely to stem the controversy.

Here’s what we know, and what we don’t know.

Who is involved?

There are at least four Cabinet secretaries under fire for their use of charter or military flights.

Price was the most extreme case, as his flights cost taxpayers about $1 million, according to estimates by Politico.

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The Treasury Department inspector general is reviewing department head Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinIRS reduces donor reporting rules for some tax-exempt groups On The Money: US files complaints at WTO | House leaders get deal to boost biz investment | Mnuchin says US will consider Iran sanctions waivers | FCC deals blow to Sinclair-Tribune merger Mnuchin says US will consider Iran oil sanctions waivers: report MORE’s use of a private jet in August, as well as why he requested a government plane to take him and his wife, Louise Linton, on their European honeymoon.

Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA defends FOIA policy after criticism Why did it take so long for Trump to drain the swamp of Pruitt? New EPA chief draws sharp contrast to Pruitt MORE has also been using private planes for government duties. The Washington Post reported on Wednesday that Pruitt’s private flights have cost taxpayers more than $58,000.

On Thursday, Politico and The Washington Post reported Interior Secretary Ryan ZinkeRyan Keith ZinkeWatchdog: First lady spokeswoman may have violated Hatch Act with ‘MAGA’ tweet Lawmakers aim to use spending bill to block offshore drilling Overnight Energy: House to vote on anti-carbon tax measure | Dem says EPA obstructed 'politically charged' FOIA requests | GOP looks to overhaul endangered species law MORE took a $12,000 charter flight aboard a plane owned by oil-and-gas executives.

They also reported on at least three other occasions of private jet travel since Zinke was confirmed, including to the Virgin Islands, before hurricanes Irma and Maria hit.

Veterans Affairs Secretary David ShulkinDavid Jonathon ShulkinOn paper, Wilkie is the perfect candidate for VA secretary, but his qualifications go further VA nominee heads to full Senate confirmation The Hill's Morning Report — Sponsored by Better Medicare Alliance — Anticipation builds for Trump’s SCOTUS pick MORE is also coming under scrutiny for combining personal travel in Europe with an official trip, all paid for with taxpayer money. While Shulkin flew commercial, the government paid for both he and his wife's flight and a per-diem for both their meals.

The trip also came less than two weeks after he signed a memo instructing top VA staffers to determine whether “employee travel in their organization is essential.”

Apologizing might not be enough

Price apologized for his decision and offered to pay back tax payers for the cost of his seat on his private flights.

That wasn’t enough to stem the controversy or the president’s ire.

Zinke on Friday was more combative, telling an audience at the Heritage Foundation that the outrage was “a little B.S.”

Mnuchin hasn’t apologized either, and on Thursday he declined to promise that he would only ever fly commercial.

“I can promise the American taxpayer that the only time that I will be using mil 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,” Mnuchin said on CBS “This Morning.”

Price’s pledge to pay back “his share of the travel” amounts to $51,887.31. According to Politico, which broke the stories about his private flights, Price took at least 26 flights on private jets at an estimated cost to the taxpayers of over $400,000.

On Thursday night, Politico reported that the White House approved flights on U.S. military aircraft to travel to Europe, Asia and Africa for official events, at a cost of more than $500,000.

Congressional Republicans are taking notice.

Price’s trips managed to earn bipartisan outrage.

Democrats were fuming, but Republicans also gave him a dressing down.

“[Everything] that happens around here is based on appearances. And if it just appears wrong, don't do it,” Sen. Lisa MurkowskiLisa Ann MurkowskiThis week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Dem infighting erupts over Supreme Court pick McConnell: Senate to confirm Kavanaugh by Oct. 1 MORE (R-Alaska) told reporters this week.

Sen. John KennedyJohn Neely KennedyMORE (R-La.) had harsher words.

“Taking these charter flights, playing the big shot on the taxpayer's dime when you can go by bus or train or regular commercial air, can't put lipstick on this pig,” Kennedy said Thursday on Fox News Channel’s “America’s Newsroom.”

More broadly, the charter flights by Cabinet members are also the subject of an investigation by the House Oversight Committee.

Judiciary Committee Chairman Charles GrassleyCharles (Chuck) Ernest GrassleySenate GOP poised to break record on Trump's court picks This week: GOP mulls vote on ‘abolish ICE’ legislation Kavanaugh paper chase heats up MORE (R-Iowa) on Thursday urged Trump to curb the spending of Cabinet secretaries.

He called on Trump to “emphasize to cabinet secretaries the necessity of using reasonable and cost-effective modes of travel,” especially “considering the many travel options to and from Washington, D.C.”

Will the flights cost anyone else their jobs?

Trump was reportedly incensed at Price for being a distraction, and was annoyed the reports about Price’s air travel have undercut his “swamp draining” image.

But there was also speculation that Trump blamed Price for the failure of Congress to repeal ObamaCare.

If tax reform suffers a similar fate, one couldn’t blame Mnuchin for being worried.

On the other hand, Mnuchin is a confidante and friend to Trump. Price was seen as a loyalist to Vice President Pence, and lacked a more personal connection to Trump.

Trump has also been cleaning house at the VA, firing more than 500 employees since he took office. It’s not clear yet how the latest scandal will impact Shulkin.

Zinke has already come under fire from Democrats, and his initial defense shows he may be painting the issue as a partisan attack, which doesn’t necessarily reflect poorly on Trump.

Trump has also been trying to combat the image of a White House in chaos, and while the scandals have not gotten positive cable news coverage, more staff resignations or firings could be even worse.