Dems Demand Hearings On Trump Officials’ First Class Flights

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Thomas Phippen Associate Editor
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Democratic members of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform want Congress to hold hearings on how cabinet officials have spent allegedly exorbitant amounts of taxpayer money on air travel.

“Many agencies — including the White House — have refused to provide the information our Committee has requested to conduct our investigation, and without subpoenas, we cannot effectively investigate this matter,” Democratic Reps. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking member of the Oversight Committee, and Raja Krishnamoorthi of Illinois wrote in a letter Tuesday.

In the letter, Cummings and other Democrats on the committee urged GOP Rep. Trey Gowdy of South Carolina to hold hearings on “extent of these improper flights and why the White House and several agencies have refused to provide the requested documents.”

Cummings wants the hearings to address whether the Trump administration “has adequate controls in place to protect taxpayer money when it comes to the travel of members of this administration.”

“As representatives of the American taxpayers, we are responsible for ensuring their hard-earned money is not wasted,” Cummings wrote.

Gowdy, the Oversight Committee chairman, joined Cummings in September in requesting information on air travel expenditures from 25 government agencies and departments, including the White House, but apparently have not received responses to their queries.

Meanwhile, watchdog groups and media organizations continue to report on expensive flights for government officials paid for by taxpayers.

Environmental Protection Agency chief Scott Pruitt has been particularly criticized for routinely booking first-class seats when coach travel was available. On one trip to a G-7 summit in Italy, the EPA spent $120,000 on first-class airfare for Pruitt, coach seats for his security detail, and a chartered military jet to New York city.

Gowdy pressed the EPA about Pruitt’s use of first class airfare in February, requesting documentation by March 6. Federal law prohibits purchasing first-class airfare unless the government official obtains a waiver, usually to accommodate disabilities or special needs.

“Clearly, federal regulations prohibit a blanket waiver to fly first class except to accommodate disabilities or special needs. Instead, a waiver for each flight is required in order to fly first or business class when traveling on official government business,” Gowdy wrote.

The EPA did not respond to Gowdy’s request by the deadline, according to The Hill.

Two cabinet officials have already fallen in the wake of embarrassing reports of seemingly extravagant travel spending. Former Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned in September after reports he took $1 million worth of taxpayer-funded trips on private planes, and former Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was forced out of his position in March after months of bad press surrounding a European work trip that included several days of sightseeing with his wife.

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