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Treasury pushes back on travel criticism with data on Obama-era costs

Treasury pushes back on travel criticism with data on Obama-era costs
© Greg Nash

The Treasury Department on Wednesday released information about the travel of Secretary Steven MnuchinSteven Terner MnuchinOvernight Defense: Trump shifts tone on Saudis | New pressure from lawmakers | Trump: 'Certainly looks' like Khashoggi dead | Pompeo gives Saudis days to wrap up investigation | Trump threatens military action on border to stop migrants On The Money: Mnuchin pulls out of Saudi summit | Consumer bureau to probe controversial blog posts on race | Harris proposes new middle-class tax credit Trump changes tone on Saudi Arabia amid mounting pressure MORE and his recent predecessors, pushing back against criticism that Mnuchin’s travel spending has been wasteful and extravagant.

“We are committed to being transparent with the American people and Congress to help ensure that taxpayer dollars are expended in a responsible and prudent manner,” the Treasury Department’s public affairs office said in a statement.

The documents show that Mnuchin spent about $1.2 million on travel in fiscal 2017, which ended Sept. 30. He has spent $781,000 so far in fiscal 2018.

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Mnuchin’s 2017 travel spending is significantly less than the $3.2 million that former President Obama’s last Treasury Secretary, Jack LewJacob (Jack) Joseph LewOvernight Finance: US reaches deal with ZTE | Lawmakers look to block it | Trump blasts Macron, Trudeau ahead of G-7 | Mexico files WTO complaint Obama-era Treasury secretary: Tax law will make bipartisan deficit-reduction talks harder GOP Senate report says Obama officials gave Iran access to US financial system MORE, spent on travel in fiscal 2016, though Lew was in office for all of fiscal 2016 and Mnuchin was sworn into office several months into the 2017 fiscal year. It’s also less than the average amount of about $2 million that Obama’s two Treasury Secretaries, Lew and Timothy Geithner, spent annually on travel, according to the documents.

Mnuchin did, however, spend more on travel in fiscal 2017 than Lew and Geithner did in their first years in office. Geithner spent about $1.1 million on travel in fiscal 2009, while Lew spent $553,000 in fiscal 2013.

The travel cost figures include costs of air and train travel, vehicles, hotel rooms and other costs associated with the Treasury secretaries and their staffs, the department said. 

In releasing the information, the Treasury Department is pushing back against those who have argued that Mnuchin has engaged in excessive travel spending, particularly on military aircraft.

Last month, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released documents finding that Mnuchin spent almost $1 million on military aircraft trips between the spring and fall of 2017. The Treasury Department pushed back on CREW’s findings, saying they included mischaracterizations and falsehoods.

Democrats on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee last week urged the panel’s chairman, Rep. Trey GowdyHarold (Trey) Watson GowdyRosenstein to appear for House interview next week House GOP sets deposition deadline for Fusion GPS co-founder Collusion bombshell: DNC lawyers met with FBI on Russia allegations before surveillance warrant MORE (R-S.C.), to hold hearings on travel by Trump administration officials, citing the CREW report as an example of questionable travel costs.

The Treasury public affairs office said Wednesday that since 2006, Treasury secretaries have taken more than 100 international trips, and about 95 percent of them involved the use of military aircraft.

“The Obama Administration and the Trump Administration have utilized the same approval process and provided the same level of justification for travel requests,” Treasury said.

Mnuchin, a member of the National Security Council, spends much of his time working on issues relating to sanctions and terrorism financing. 

“To execute this role effectively, the Secretary needs readily available access to secure communications equipment, whether in Washington or on travel,” Treasury’s public affairs office said. “Military aircraft affords senior government officials this access.”

Treasury noted the department’s inspector general said in October that the secretary is required to have access to secure communications. The inspector general also saw no violation of the law in Mnuchin’s requests and uses of government aircraft. 

Mnuchin is not the only member of President TrumpDonald John TrumpThe Guardian slams Trump over comments about assault on reporter Five takeaways from the first North Dakota Senate debate Watchdog org: Tillerson used million in taxpayer funds to fly throughout US MORE’s Cabinet whose travel has come under scrutiny.

Environmental Protection Agency Scott PruittEdward (Scott) Scott PruittEPA puts science ‘transparency’ rule on back burner Tucker Carlson says he 'can't really' dine out anymore because people keep yelling at him Overnight Energy: Trump administration doubles down on climate skepticism | Suspended EPA health official hits back | Military bases could host coal, gas exports MORE has come under fire for a trip to Morocco in December that the agency said cost taxpayers $40,000. Pruitt has also been criticized for flying frequently in first class and for renting a room in a Capitol Hill apartment owned by the wife of an energy lobbyist for $50 per night. The Hill has learned that Gowdy is investigating Pruitt’s rental arrangement.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom PriceThomas (Tom) Edmunds PriceGOP on timing of Haley’s announcement: 'Unusual' and 'odd' Watchdog calls for investigation into Haley flights White House officials discussing potential replacements for FEMA chief: report MORE resigned last year after reports that he repeatedly flew on private charter flights.