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Facing scandal over taxpayer-funded jet travel, Price scrambles

Every excuse HHS Secretary Tom Price has come up with to defend his taxpayer-financed jet travel has fallen apart under scrutiny.
Image: Tom Price
Health and Human Services Secretary-designate, Rep. Tom Price, R-Ga. testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington, Wednesday, Jan. 18, 2017, at his confirmation...

It's a story that looked awful at the outset, and managed to get progressively worse very quickly. Just six days ago, Politico first reported that HHS Secretary Tom Price has been chartering private jets, paid for by American taxpayers, for official business. We learned soon after that the far-right cabinet secretary, who used to be outraged by stories like these, has taken at least 24 of these flights, at a cost exceeding $300,000.

Pressed for an explanation, Price initially didn't want to talk about it. Then the excuse related to the recent hurricanes, which didn't make any sense. His press office later said the chartered jets were about "making sure he is connected with the real American people," which was hilarious, since almost all real Americans tend to fly commercial.

We were then told Price started taking private jets because he had a bad experience with a cancelled flight, which, as excuses go, wasn't exactly persuasive.

Late last week, the Department of Health and Human Services' inspector general's office announced an investigation into Price's travel arrangements, and soon after, the cabinet secretary said he'll stop taking chartered flights -- at least for now.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price told Fox News on Saturday that he'll stop his taxpayer-funded travel on private jets, pending a formal review by his department's inspector general."We've heard the criticism. We've heard the concerns. We take that very seriously and have taken it to heart," Price said.

That may sound like a good start, but as Politico's latest report noted, Price continued just last week to take additional chartered flights, costing tens of thousands of dollars, even after the controversy broke. The new total cost to taxpayers for Price's private flights is now over $400,000 -- and that only includes the flights we know about since May.

Asked about the controversy yesterday, Donald Trump said, "We’re looking into it."

Making matters slightly worse, Price isn't alone. ABC News reports that Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin's travel is now facing scrutiny from investigators in his cabinet agency. This includes a previously unreported flight Mnuchin took on a government jet from New York to D.C. last month following a bizarre presidential press conference in Trump Tower.

Democrats on the House Oversight Committee, meanwhile, would love to see Congress hold a hearing or two about this -- which is precisely what would happen in a normal and healthy political environment.

Up until recently, I thought the only real oddity about Trump World and airplanes was the president's odd habit of lying about them. Evidently, that just scratches the surface.