HHS Secretary Tom Price on Thursday said he will reimburse the federal government for "[his] seat" on private jets and will no longer use charter flights for business.
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The news comes amid increased scrutiny over Price's and other Trump administration officials' use of private charter jets over commercial flights.
HHS' Office of Inspector General and Democratic leaders on the House Appropriations Committee, separately, are investigating Price's reported use of private planes for work-related travel in recent months.
Several Democratic lawmakers had called for the OIG investigation following a Politico article published last week that reported Price on five occasions took private jets for official business, which charter flight operators estimated likely cost at least $60,000 combined. Politico has since identified at least 26 instances between May and now when Price flew on private jets for official business at a cost of more than $400,000 to U.S. taxpayers.
Politico also is reporting that Price traveled via military aircraft for multi-national trips to Africa, Europe, and Asia, at a cost of more than $500,000. The White House approved those overseas trips. Raj Shah, White House principal deputy press secretary, said, "Use of military aircraft for cabinet and other essential travelers is sometimes an appropriate and necessary use of resources."
A Price spokesperson said the HHS secretary began using private jets after a commercial flight delay forced him to miss an official HHS event. According to Politico, that flight was delayed because of a storm in the Washington, D.C., area that also affected private charter flights.
President Trump on Wednesday said he was "not happy" about the controversy over Price's use of private jets for work-related travel, and when asked if he would fire Price, Trump said, "We'll see."
Price to repay his share of private jet travel costs
Price in a statement Thursday said he will write a personal check to the Department of Treasury "for the expenses of my travel on private charter planes," adding, "The taxpayers won't pay a dime for my seat on those planes."
According to an HHS official, Price will pay back a total of $51,887.31. The official did not provide the full cost of the trips, the Wall Street Journal reports.
Price in a statement reiterated that his travel was approved by legal and HHS officials, but added, "I regret the concerns this has raised about the use of taxpayer dollars."
Price also said he is cooperating with the OIG and internal investigation into the matter and said he will no longer use "private charter flights as secretary of HHS," adding, "No exceptions."
In an appearance Thursday on Fox News, Price said he had spoken with Trump about the situation and that Trump was not happy. "I work at the pleasure of the president," Price said, adding that he hopes to "regain the trust" of the American people and those working in the Trump administration (McCaskill, Politico, 9/28; Pradhan, Politico, 9/28; Pradhan/Diamond, Politico, 9/28; Weixel, The Hill, 9/28; Firth, MedPage Today, 9/28; Cornwell, Reuters, 9/28; Stokols, Wall Street Journal, 9/28; Rogers et al., New York Times, 9/28).
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