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Axelrod: People won't 'begrudge' Panetta for travel expenses

President Obama's top campaign adviser David Axelrod defended Defense Secretary Leon Panetta for travel expenses incurred on trips between the Washington area and his California home. 

"He's serving the country and he's also the defense secretary and that puts a certain security risks around him that no one but the president endures," said Axelrod on CNN's "State of the Union" Sunday.

Axelrod told CNN that he understands people are concerned about government spending at a time of economic insecurity, but said he doesn't think people will "begrudge" the defense secretary.

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"Leon is doing an important job for the country, really, a service to the country at the age of 73 after a long career … I don't think people are going to begrudge him going home and seeing his family," he said.

Panetta spoke out publicly about his travel expenses for the first time last Monday, saying he "regrets" the cost to the taxpayer and is looking into alternative options, reported the Associated Press.

"I regret that it does, you know, that it does add costs that the taxpayer has to pick up," Panetta said during a Pentagon briefing. "A taxpayer would have to pick up those costs with any secretary of state or secretary of defense. But having said that, I am trying to look at what are ... the alternatives here that I can look at that might possibly be able to save funds and, at the same time, be able to fulfill my responsibilities, not only to my job, but to my family."

Panetta travels frequently from the Washington area to Malibu, Calif., to spend time with his family when he is not on official Defense Department travel.

Since Panetta took over at the Pentagon last July, 27 flights have cost the government as much as $860,000, according to the Associated Press.

Last December it was reported that Panetta's cross-country trips have a price tag of up to $30,000. He is required to reimburse the government for the price of an equivalent coach airline ticket, but the cost of the flights on military jets far exceeds those prices.

In a series of interviews at the time, lawmakers expressed few concerns when asked by The Hill about the potential of spending $100,000 a month on Panetta’s personal weekend trips.