US Treasury chief Steven Mnuchin accused of luxury travel on taxpayer dime

US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin came under negative scrutiny after he and his wife travelled aboard a government jet to visit the US Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.
US Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin came under negative scrutiny after he and his wife travelled aboard a government jet to visit the US Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.PHOTO: REUTERS

WASHINGTON (AFP) - An ethics organisation in Washington accused US Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday (March 15) of bilking US tax payers by needlessly travelling on military and non-commercial jets to the tune of US$1 million (S$1.3 million) last year.

Documents obtained after a freedom of information lawsuit against the Treasury Department showed Mnuchin "apparently abused his access to military and non-commercial aircraft" for business and personal travel, according to Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW).

A Treasury spokesperson rejected the group's findings, calling them falsehoods or mischaracterisations.

Mnuchin, a former investment banker and Hollywood producer, came under negative scrutiny in August after he and his wife travelled aboard a government jet to visit the US Bullion Depository in Fort Knox, Kentucky.

Mnuchin's wife, the actress Louise Linton, later apologised after lashing out at social media user who had criticised her for advertising the high fashion brands she wore during the trip.

The couple also agreed to reimburse the government for the costs of her travel.

The following month Mnuchin reportedly requested the use of a military jet during the couple's European honeymoon - but ultimately did not use the US$25,000-per-hour plane.

Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in September following media revelations he had also racked up US$400,000 in travel bills for chartered flights.

"From the documents we obtained, it appears Secretary Mnuchin considers first and foremost his own comfort and ease, leaving the protection of taxpayer money at the bottom of his list of priorities," Anne Weismann, CREW's chief counsel, said in a statement.

According to CREW, records show that between the spring and fall of last year Mnuchin took eight separate trips by military aircraft at a total cost of US$1 million.

Mnuchin has not explained why he has not used commercial air travel, as his predecessors did, Weismann said.

The Treasury Secretary has said government aircraft allow him to send and receive sensitive national security information while traveling.

A department spokesperson told AFP on Thursday Mnuchin had followed the same approval process for the flights as prior Treasury secretaries.

An inspector general investigation had also reviewed the trips and found "no violation of law, regulation, or ethics requirements," the spokesperson said.

"These documents explicitly demonstrate Treasury's concern for being prudent with taxpayer dollars while fulfilling important departmental responsibilities."