Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s flight to Kentucky last week is under review by the department’s Office of Inspector General after the trip raised public scrutiny over whether it was partly motivated by interest in viewing the solar eclipse.
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“In response to inquiries received from members of the public, we are reviewing the circumstances of the Secretary's August 21 flight to Louisville and Ft. Knox, to determine whether all applicable travel, ethics, and appropriation laws and policies were observed,” Rich Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said in a statement.
The Office of Inspector General will advise appropriate officials after the review is complete, he said.
The review comes after an ethics watchdog group last week undertook its own investigation into whether the eclipse was the primary motivation for the treasury secretary’s trip.
In a Freedom of Information Act request to the Treasury Department, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, or CREW, asked for all documents that “would shed light on the justification for Secretary Mnuchin’s use of a government plane, rather than a commercial flight, for a trip that seems to have been planned around the solar eclipse and to enable the Secretary to secure a viewpoint in the path of the eclipses’ totality.”
The Treasury Department has firmly denied that the eclipse played any role in the planning of the trip, which a spokesman said was originally planned for earlier last month but was rescheduled to accommodate the congressional calendar.
“The eclipse did not even factor in the travel decision,” the spokesman told ABC News in a statement last week.
“The facts remain that the Secretary was on official government travel in Kentucky where he and Leader McConnell met with members of the business community to discuss tax reform,” the spokesman added.
Mnuchin attended a Chamber of Commerce luncheon in Louisville with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., and also visited Fort Knox, where they toured the bullion reserve and viewed the eclipse. But the Treasury spokesman described that portion of the secretary’s activities as only a minor component of his visit.
“They watched it briefly from outside before they entered [prior to the actual time of full eclipse]. The Secretary was more interested in meeting with Mint personnel, reviewing the security procedures, and viewing the contents of the Depository,” the spokesman said. “The Secretary was more interested in meeting with Mint personnel, reviewing the security procedures, and viewing the contents of the Depository.”
Mnuchin’s Aug. 21 trip to Kentucky first came under criticism early last week after Mnuchin’s wife, Louise Linton, who accompanied the secretary on the trip, posted a photo of her getting off the government plane and tagging the designer brands she was wearing.
The post spiraled into further controversy when Linton responded to a commenter who criticized the post, writing: “Adorable! Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol. Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?”
Linton later apologized for the response, calling it “inappropriate and highly insensitive,” and the Treasury Department said the Mnuchins would reimburse the government for Linton’s travel costs.