White House halts HHS use of private charter planes

White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders said a “halt” that applies specifically to Health and Human Services (HHS) has been placed on the department’s use of private charter planes.

Sanders said Thursday during a White House press briefing that the Trump administration has “asked a halt be put, particularly at HHS, on any private charter flights moving forward.”

The administration’s decision comes following reports that HHS Secretary Tom Price traveled via private charter jets for HHS business, costing taxpayers approximately $400,000. Reports estimate that the secretary took at least 24 flights.

Price’s case has prompted a review by the HHS inspector general, but Sanders said that “the White House is looking at more of an overall” review of private plane use by cabinet members.

Secretary Steve Mnuchin’s use of military aircraft and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt’s travel on an Air Force jet have also prompted inspector general investigations.

Price released a statement Thursday responding to the allegations and pledging to pay back a portion of his travel expenses while cooperating with the surrounding investigations.

“I regret the concerns this has raised regarding the use of taxpayer dollars,” Price said in the statement. “All of my political career I’ve fought for the taxpayers. It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer. I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials.”

An HHS spokesperson told CBS News that Price “has heard the taxpayers’ concerns and wants to be responsive to them” by writing a $51,887.31 personal check to the U.S. Treasury to reimburse the travel– a payment well below the reported price tag of Price’s travels.

“The taxpayers won’t pay a dime for his seats on charter planes,” the spokesperson said.

When asked if Price should be fired, Sanders smiled and laughed.

“I think the president’s addressed this yesterday. We’re going through this process, we’re going to conduct a full review, and we’ll see what happens,” she said.

President Trump echoed Sanders’ sentiments Wednesday when also asked if he would fire Price.

“We’ll see,” he told reporters. “I’m going to look at it. I’m not happy about it and I let him know it.”

Sanders later said that Price’s dismissal is “something that we would determine once those reviews are complete.”

Although Mr. Trump is very displeased with Price, the two “have spoken about this issue previously,” Sanders said.  

“As the president said yesterday, he’s not thrilled, certainly not happy with the actions,” Sanders said. “We’re definitely looking at the issue. They’re conducting both an internal and an IG full review.”

Sanders also emphasized that the White House does not “have a role on the front end of approving private charter flights at the agencies.” 

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Source: CBS News – Politics



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