Like so many members of the Trump administration, Ben Carson has some explaining to do.
When the Secretary of Housing and Urban Development appeared before Congress on Tuesday to discuss his department’s budget, lawmakers didn’t miss the opportunity to ask him about the $31,000 dining set his office ordered (but later cancelled). Carson said he didn’t know about the costly furniture, but emails obtained by CNN show that he and his wife had handpicked the set.
Donald Trump galloped into the White House on a promise to “drain the swamp,” to rid Washington of inefficient and corrupt career bureaucrats, and bring to D.C. a new commonsense and business-minded leadership. But Carson is hardly the only member of Trump’s Cabinet to buy expensive stuff — or at least try to buy expensive stuff — that they may or may not have needed.
So far, current and former Cabinet members have spent millions in taxpayer money on unusually costly items, like office decor and lavish trips. In fact, five of the 21 Senate-confirmed members of Trump’s Cabinet are currently facing or have faced ethics probes over their travel expenses.
“You’re a Cabinet officer. You’re going to have people in your office. You want it to feel solid and look good,” said Ryan Alexander, president of Taxpayers for Common Sense, a nonpartisan budget watchdog group. “You can satisfy those needs for a lot less money. It’s a large collection of terrible judgments.”
Here’s a rundown of the biggest expenses from Trump’s Cabinet.
As administrator at the Environmental Protection Agency, Scott Pruitt has implemented unprecedented levels of security. The costs have added up.
At least $2 million a year:
When Pruitt started in his role, he demanded a 24/7 security detail, which will cost over $2 million a year in salaries alone, according to a review of public documents by CNN. In just his first three months on the job, salaries for his security staff and their travel cost the agency $832,735, according to documents obtained by E&E News through a public records request.
Pruitt flew first-class for six months because of what his department called security threats. (Some people seated in coach told him he was “fucking up the environment.") In June alone, Pruitt spent $90,000 on travel, according to records obtained by the Environmental Integrity Project and first reported by the Washington Post. Those trips included: $1,641 for a first-class flight from D.C. to New York; and a $36,068 flight on a military jet from Cincinnati to New York to catch a plane to Rome, which cost $7,004 round-trip.
Pruitt’s agency spent some $25,000 on a soundproof booth, and another $18,000 making arrangements for its arrival, including about $3,600 for a two-foot-thick slab of concrete whose purpose the EPA wouldn’t clarify.
The EPA bought biometric locks for Pruitt’s door, according to an EPA employee who spoke to the Associated Press on condition of anonymity. Past administrators didn’t seem to need those.
A business associate of Pruitt’s head of security swept his office to scan for secret listening devices, according to records obtained by the Washington Post.
Zinke hasn’t far outspent his predecessors on travel as Secretary of the Interior, but three helicopter trips he took — one to squeeze in a quick horseback ride with Vice President Mike Pence — caught the attention of government ethics officials. His agency’s watchdog then investigated him — which Zinke called “a little B.S.” — and found that he’d failed to document his travel, which his office blamed on the chaos of the Obama administration.
Here’s some of the notable spending from his office:
That’s the cost of three new sets of double doors in his office. The Interior Department justified the high cost as part of maintaining the historic integrity of the building.
Zinke spent that much on three helicopter trips last summer, according to records obtained by the Associated Press. That includes $39,000 on a helicopter tour over national monuments in Nevada, $8,000 on a round-trip ride to an emergency management exercise in West Virginia, and $6,200 on a trip to Virginia to visit a Revolutionary War battlefield and attend a meeting.
Zinke’s office was this far over budget in October, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington told CNN. Interior denied at the time that they had way overspent.
Shulkin, the secretary of Veterans Affairs, is rumored to be on Trump’s bad side. That’s at least partly due to him spending government cash on a family vacation, although he eventually paid back the VA, which provided per-diem reimbursement and paid for the flights.
Shulkin took a trip to Europe, about half of which he spent on vacation with his family. He went on a sightseeing tour of Westminster Abbey, a cruise along the Thames, and to Wimbledon. Shuklin had said that the woman who gave him the tickets was his wife’s close friend, but when investigators from the inspector general’s office called her, she couldn’t remember Shulkin’s wife’s first name.
The secretary of the Treasury and his wife, actress Louise Linton, are accustomed to a lavish lifestyle. The former Wall Street executive was worth some $300 million in late 2016, according to Forbes. But the big spending has continued on his taxpayer salary.
Here’s the rundown on Mnuchin’s travel:
Mnuchin requested for a military jet to take him and his wife on honeymoon to Scotland, France, and Italy, ABC reported. Mnuchin later retracted the request.
That’s the total cost of eight trips on non-commercial military planes. Mnuchin has never flown commercial, according to a Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) report.
One of those trips, to Louisville and Fort Knox, Kentucky, last summer kicked off the controversy: The secretary and his wife took the jet to meet with business leaders — at a location conveniently near the path of totality of the solar eclipse.
Linton posted a now-infamous Instagram of herself disembarking from a government jet on that trip wearing designer clothes. When one Instagram commenter pointed out the bad optics, Linton flipped out. “Did you think this was a personal trip?!” she wrote on Instagram. That tipped off Treasury investigators, who looked into the matter.
Though the price tag on Mnuchin’s travel is high, the internal watchdog found no evidence that Mnuchin had broken the law. Investigators, however, did make Mnuchin reimburse the government for the cost of Linton’s travel to Kentucky.
After the education secretary flubbed her answers to basic questions about policy at her confirmation hearing, a group of protesters blocked her from entering a public school in Washington, D.C., one of her first official appearances. That brief and relatively tame altercation, caught on film, happened just days before the Department of Education enlisted the U.S. Marshals service to provide security to DeVos. Each of the last four secretaries of education have relied on the department’s small internal security staff.
Here’s the rundown:
DeVos’s security detail, from her swearing-in in October until 2018, ran under budget because she, as the heiress to the Amway marketing fortune, foots the bill for travel for herself and her security detail.
That’s the cost of the contract between the Department of Education and the Marshal Service to provide security to DeVos through September 2018, a Education Department official told Politico in October.
In total, keeping DeVos safe will run taxpayers up to nearly $12 million over two years. And DeVos still can’t answer basic questions about education. She fumbled a “60 Minutes” interview earlier this month.
Price, Trump’s former Health and Human Service Secretary, resigned after spending approximately as much as Mnuchin did on trips where he mixed personal affairs and business.
Here’s the breakdown of his travel expenses, all first reported by Politico:
Price spent this much on 24 flights between May and September.
That’s what Price spent on one flight from D.C. to Nashville for a one-day trip, during which he spent 90 minutes on business and then took a three-hour lunch with his son. If he’d flown commercial, the trip would have cost about $200.
Price took a Learjet to the Aspen Ideas Festival from San Diego, where he attended a medical conference, although it’s not clear why Price was there. The flight, according to a charter agency estimate review by Politico, cost $7,100. He gave a speech about getting “value” from spending.
Price cruised among five states in four days on a private jet and finally landed on a Friday night near St. Simon Island, a vacation spot off the Georgia coast where Price owns property. He attended a medical conference on a Sunday.After the reports on his costly travel, Price agreed to reimburse the government $51,887, and told Fox News that his reimbursement was “unprecedented.”