Trump Admin Freezes HHS Private Jet Use Until Reviews Complete

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price speaks during a National Foundation for Infectious Diseases (NFID) news conference  recommending everyone age six months an older be vaccinated against influenza, Thursday, Sept. 28, 2017 in Washington. (AP Photo/Pablo Martinez Monsivais)
Pablo Martinez Monsivais/AP

White House press secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders on Thursday said the Trump administration has frozen the Department of Health and Human Services’ use of private chartered planes until further notice following reports that HHS Secretary Tom Price racked up huge bills for private air travel.

“As the President said yesterday, he’s not thrilled, certainly not happy with the actions,” Sanders said during her daily briefing. “We’re definitely looking at the issue.”

She said the White House is conducting an “internal” review in addition to the one currently in progress by the HHS inspector general, whose office announced last week that it was requesting documents related to Price’s use of private jets for official business travel.

“But to be clear, also, the White House does not have a role on the front end of approving private charter flights at the agencies,” she said. “And that’s something that we’re certainly looking into from this point forward, and have asked a halt be put particularly at HHS on any private charter flights moving forward until those reviews are completed.”

“Does Secretary Price expect to keep his job in this administration?” a reporter asked.

“I think the President has addressed this yesterday. We’re going through this process,” Sanders replied. “We’re going to conduct a full review and we’ll see what happens.”

Price, who racked up a travel cost of more than $300,000 for private jet travel on trips where he combined official business travel with visits to family and friends, was one of three members of Trump’s administration under scrutiny for his abundant use of charter rather than commercial air travel.

Scott Pruitt, the administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, reportedly spent more than $58,000 of taxpayer money on travel that an agency spokesperson said included “one charter flight and three government flights.”

And Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin came under fire for using a taxpayer-funded flight to attend an event in Kentucky where he also had a prime view of the solar eclipse, which he watched with his wife.

Trump on Wednesday said he was “not happy” about Price’s pricey private plane proclivity.

“I’m going to look at it. I am not happy about it, and I let him know it,” Trump said, and added, when asked if he would fire Price, “We’ll see.”

Price, on the other hand, appeared optimistic about his prospects.

“I think we’ve still got the confidence of the President,” he said on Thursday.

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Esme Cribb is a newswriter for TPM in New York City. She can be found on Twitter @emquiry and reached by email at esme@talkingpointsmemo.com.
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