With controversy swirling over his use of private charter aircraft for official travel at taxpayer expense, Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price late Thursday announced that he will halt such flights, cooperate with investigators and reimburse the U.S. Treasury for past such expenses with a personal check.
But he won’t be covering the full costs of the flights, which a Politico investigation estimated to cost about $400,000: An HHS spokesperson later clarified that Price's check would be for $51,887.31, which covers only the cost of his own seat on the flights. “The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for his seats on charter planes,” the spokesperson said.
In his statement, Price said that all of his travel in recent weeks, which he said was related to hurricane relief and efforts to repeal the Affordable Care Act, was approved by legal and HHS officials.
“I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars. All of my political career I’ve fought for the taxpayers. It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer. I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials,” the statement said.
Price added that he is launching an HHS internal review of such travel and will cooperate fully with the investigation underway by the HHS Office of Inspector General, which was requested by Democratic lawmakers.
The move came after President Trump, when asked whether Price’s job was secure, said, “we’ll see.” Just minutes before Price’s announcement, White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders confirmed that the White house is “conducting both an internal and full IG review.”
“He’s not thrilled—certainly not happy with the actions,” Sanders said of Trump’s reaction to the revelations. “We’re going to conduct a full review and we’ll see what happens.”
Earlier in the day, Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, when asked whether the White House had questioned him about his own controversial use of government planes for personal travel, said he had not heard from anyone there. Mnuchin spoke at the Washington Ideas Forum, which is sponsored by the Aspen Institute and The Atlantic.
Also, late on Thursday, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa., wrote to Trump urging him to curb Cabinet secretaries’ private plane travel, mentioning Price, Mnuchin and Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt. “Considering the many travel options to and from Washington, D.C., I'm urging you to emphasize to Cabinet secretaries the necessity of using reasonable and cost-effective modes of travel in accordance with federal restrictions,” the senator wrote, asking for details of the administration’s steps to address the problem.