Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s chief of staff was investigated for accepting a free flight from a top Republican donor earlier this year, and officials can find no wrongdoing.
The trip that chief of staff Eli Miller took, while perfectly legal, may not have been “wise,” according to an report by the Treasury Department’s Office of the Inspector General.
Miller accepted a flight from Washington, D.C., to Florida in March to visit his in-laws after confiding to billionaire Trump supporter Nelson Peltz, the founder about his busy schedule and his upcoming trip. Peltz offered to give Miller a lift to Palm Beach on his jet later that day.
Peltz made the offer on March 23, 2017, while visiting with Miller and Mnuchin before going to lunch at the White House with President Donald Trump. After checking with ethics officials, Miller accepted the flight that evening, and he and Peltz were the only passengers on the plane, and didn’t discuss anything relating to the Treasury. In fact, to Miller’s recollection, they didn’t speak after the first 10 minutes of the flight, and Peltz slept most of the way.
The OIG concluded that the gift didn’t violate any regulations about accepting gifts, and that the gift didn’t indicate that Peltz was advocating trying to buy influence within the Treasury Department.
Miller told investigators that Peltz “never asked him about any matter involving his work at Treasury, nor asked him to intervene or provide information for any purpose.” Peltz has praised Trump and the administration’s tax plan, a proposal created with input from the Treasury, the Washington Post reports.
Miller first met Peltz during the 2016 campaign, and said he considers Peltz to be a mentor and friend. The flight, therefore, was not offered because Miller was a Treasury official.
While the trip followed the letter of the law, the OIG noted that at a time of heightened scrutiny of travel by federal officials, it might have been prudent to refuse the gift. “[The] applicable regulations do stress that legal does not always equate to appropriate or wise,” the report says. Mnuchin himself has been investigated for potentially using government-funded flights for personal use, and the administration has frequently been criticized for allowing wealthy business leaders access to officials.
Even though accepting the gift was permitted, the OIG brought up a section of the guidelines that states “it is never inappropriate and frequently prudent for an employee to decline a gift if acceptance would cause a reasonable person to question the employee’s integrity or impartiality.”
“Every employee has a fundamental responsibility to the United States and its citizens to place loyalty to the Constitution, laws, and ethical principles above private gain,” the report said.
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