Did you hear the one about the Cabinet secretary who chartered a private jet for official business to fly him between Washington and Philadelphia for $25,000?
Or the one about another Cabinet secretary who requested a $25,000-an-hour government plane for his honeymoon in Europe?
Or the one about a Cabinet official who chartered a private plane for $5,700 for a round-trip between two Colorado cities, despite an invitation from the governor to ride with him on his state plane?
The three blind mice are, in order, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. And their crass misuse of taxpayer money and piggish abuse of power reeks.
President Donald Trump campaigned on ridding Washington of corruption, protecting taxpayers and draining the swamp. Instead, these Cabinet members are splashing in the swamp with glee. Price’s behavior is particularly galling; as a Georgia congressman, he railed against government employees using private jets.
Price’s Philadelphia trip was one of at least 26 occasions since May when he chartered private jets for domestic official business, costing taxpayers at least $400,000.
Many places were served by frequent and inexpensive commercial flights. One August flight was with his wife to exclusive St. Simons Island in Georgia, where Price owns property — a day-and-a-half before he spoke at a conference. An $18,000 June charter took him to Nashville for less than 90 minutes of government work — and lunch with his son, who lives there.
On Thursday, Price bowed to criticism, saying, “I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer.” He promised to no longer take charter flights and to reimburse his own travel expenses of around $52,000. But taxpayers are still on the hook for the cost of his aides and other passengers. None of that includes the more-than-$500,000 cost of trips he took on military planes to Africa, Europe and Asia; on the European flights, other members of Price’s group flew commercially.
Trump, a flawed messenger on this issue, still must make clear to his advisers that this looting is not allowed.
Mnuchin’s request to use a military plane so he would have access to secure communications while honeymooning in France, Italy and Scotland was denied. But Mnuchin, whose worth has been pegged at $300 million, used a government plane last month to fly him and his wife to Kentucky so he could be only the third Treasury secretary in history to see the gold in Fort Knox — and, it just so happened, get optimal viewing of the solar eclipse that day.
All three are being investigated by the inspectors general of their departments — Pruitt for frequent trips back home to Oklahoma at public expense.
Have they no shame? Unnecessary or excessive spending of public money is wrong. Using taxpayer funds to cover a combination of business and personal expenses is at least ethically questionable. The culture that’s taking hold stinks. These aren’t technical violations of arcane regulations. The people’s money and trust are being abused. And that’s never a partisan issue.