BUSINESS

Treasury inspector general looking into Steven Mnuchin's request for a military jet for his honeymoon

An inspector general is looking into Treasury Secretary Steven T. Mnuchin’s request for a U.S. military plane for his European honeymoon in August, triggering new questions about his use of government aircraft following a controversial trip with his wife to Kentucky during the solar eclipse.

The Treasury Department’s inspector general is “looking at all requests for and use of government aircraft by the secretary” as part of an inquiry that began after Mnuchin’s Kentucky trip last month, Rich Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said Thursday.

Mnuchin requested a military jet for the couple’s honeymoon in Scotland, France and Italy because he is a member of the National Security Council and needed access to secure communications during the trip, according to a Treasury statement.

The request was withdrawn “after a secure communications option was identified during the Secretary's extended travel,” the department said.

“We have multiple issues around the world where the secretary is directly involved in national security, notably North Korea, Iran, and Venezuela, among others,” said a Treasury spokesperson.

“It is imperative that he have access to secure communications, and it is our practice to consider a wide range of options to ensure he has these capabilities during his travel, including the possible use of military aircraft,” the spokesperson said.

Mnuchin said Thursday the “story was quite misreported” and the request was not about his personal convenience.

“The government has never paid for any of my personal travel,” he said when asked about it during a forum hosted by Politico. “At the time, my staff wanted to make sure I constantly had access to secure communication and secure information. This is one of the things we explored.”

“This had nothing to do with convenience,” Mnuchin said. “This was purely about national security.”

ABC News, which first reported the request, said use of an Air Force jet would have cost about $25,000 an hour to operate.

Sen. Ron Wyden (D-Ore.), the top Democrat on the Senate committee that oversees the Treasury Department, said on Twitter on Wednesday that Mnuchin’s request was “obviously wrong” and “forehead-slapping stuff.”

https://twitter.com/RonWyden/status/908113369261133826

Rep. Ted Lieu (D-Torrance), a sharp critic of the Trump administration, tweeted to Mnuchin that “Treasury is not your slush fund & Air Force is not your fleet.”

https://twitter.com/tedlieu/status/908110227370909696

Mnuchin, a wealthy former Wall Street executive and Hollywood movie producer, married Scottish actress Louise Linton on June 25 at the Trump International Hotel less than a mile from the White House. President Trump and Vice President Mike Pence and their wives were among the guests.

https://twitter.com/stevenmnuchin1/status/880917721168400384

Asked by reporters Thursday about the honeymoon request, Trump said he had just heard about it and was surprised.

“I doubt he would do it. I've known him a long time; he is a very straight shooter. So it could be that he used a plane and he's paying for it,” Trump said on Air Force One as he returned to Washington from hurricane-ravaged Florida.

Trump said he had “total confidence” in Mnuchin and that “he’s a very honorable man.”

After the couple returned from their honeymoon in Edinburgh, Paris and Milan, Linton caused controversy by posting a picture on Instagram of herself and Mnuchin getting off an Air Force jet after a trip to Kentucky on the day of the solar eclipse. The picture tagged expensive designer clothes she was wearing.

Mnuchin held an event with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.) and visited Fort Knox, where he and Linton viewed the eclipse near the path of totality.

After an Oregon woman commented archly on the Instagram post, saying "Glad we could pay for your little getaway. #deplorable,” Linton slammed her in a response.

“Did you think this was a personal trip?! Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol,” Linton said.

Linton then suggested that she and Mnuchin contributed more to the U.S. economy and paid more in taxes than the woman who had criticized her.

Linton later apologized for her comments. But the controversy led to criticism of the couple and the inquiry by Treasury’s inspector general.

Treasury officials defended Mnuchin’s visit to Kentucky as official government travel and said he would reimburse the government for bringing his wife along.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, a nonprofit group that seeks to foster accountability in government, has sued the Treasury Department for the release of documents related to the Kentucky trip.

The lawsuit includes a request for “all records concerning authorization for and the costs of Secretary Mnuchin’s use of a government plane for any purpose since his appointment as Treasury Secretary,” Jordan Libowitz, a spokesman for the group, said in an email.

"We intend to make public any and all records that exist,” he said.

jim.puzzanghera@latimes.com

Twitter: @JimPuzzanghera



UPDATES:

2:05 p.m.: This article was updated with comments from Mnuchin and Trump.

This article originally was published at 9:45 a.m.

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