Before he was Secretary of the Treasury, Steve Mnuchin was a hedge fund manager who specialized in making money off of foreclosing on vulnerable homeowners at the height of the recession. Mnuchin’s personal net worth is estimated at $300 million, making him the third wealthiest member of Donald Trump’s Cabinet—after Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross ($2.5 billion) and Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos ($1.25 billion).
This is all to say that Mnuchin has grown accustomed to a certain lifestyle.
On Thursday, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) released a report that found “between the spring and fall of 2017, [Mnuchin] took eight separate trips on military aircraft at a total cost of nearly $1 million”—a lifestyle choice indeed.
“Those records make clear that Secretary Mnuchin has legitimately earned a place in the rogues’ gallery of cabinet secretaries who have abused their all too easy access to military and other non-commercial aircraft for both business travel and what, upon closer inspection, appears to sometimes include personal travel,” the CREW report read.
Consider Mnuchin’s busy August 2017 alone, per the watchdog group:
- First, Mnuchin requested a military plane for his European honeymoon with wife Louise Linton that month. (His request was denied.)
- On August 15, Mnuchin took a flight from Washington, DC to New York “to discuss pending issues regarding tax reform and tariffs” with the president at Trump Tower. The 358-mile trip cost $15,112.50.
- On August 21, Mnuchin and Linton took a military jet to Fort Knox, KY, where, with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, they were able to take in the solar eclipse conveniently close to its path of totality. The one-day trip cost $33,046.
- On August 28-29, Mnuchin once again used a military aircraft to fly to West Virginia and Las Vegas for events with members of Congress. Government documents list the two-day trip as costing $94,100.50. According to CREW, “there is no indication Treasury considered using a less expensive FAA aircraft.”
While an October inspector general report found Mnuchin’s flight patterns did not explicitly break the law, it does add to the distinctly swampy odor that pervades the Trump White House.
In many cases, he could have taken commercial flights at considerably less expense. The Office of Management and Budget has made clear that government officials should err on the side of flying commercial (emphasis mine):
Under the OMB guidance, only “official travel” and travel made “on a space available basis” are permitted on government aircraft, subject to enumerated conditions. For official travel, there must be “no commercial airline or aircraft (including charter) service . . . reasonably available,” which is defined as none that can meet the traveler’s departure and arrival needs within a 24-hour period, absent demonstrated “extraordinary circumstances[.]”
And last September—on the same day that former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned over spending $400,000 on chartered flights—OMB Director Mick Mulvaney sent a memo to agency heads reminding them that even when regulations “allow for the use of government-owned, rented, leased, or chartered aircraft, departments and agencies should still consider whether commercial air travel is a more appropriate use of taxpayer resources.”
Of course, Mnuchin isn’t the only Cabinet secretary accused of abusing his government perch for personal gain. Whether it’s Ben Carson’s $31,000 dining set, Ryan Zinke’s $139,000 office doors, or Scott Pruitt’s
$25,000 $43,000 soundproof office, it’s clear that Trump’s (already wealthy) Cabinet secretaries are comfortable treating the U.S. government as their personal piggy bank.
I’m sure Mnuchin will claim the biased media is quibbling with numbers, something he has ample experience with. In 2016, CIT Bank—where Mnuchin was a board member—tried to foreclose on a 90-year-old woman over a 27-cent payment error. But hey, what’s $1 million between friends?