Thursday, September 21, 2017

What did Donald Trump do today?

He tried to defuse the burgeoning charter-jet scandal in his administration by promoting the fact that his education secretary owns her own jet.

The office of Betsy DeVos, whose inherited fortune is likely to be in the billions, released a statement to the Associated Press declaring that she uses her own private jet for work-related travel, and also picks up all other travel costs at "no cost to taxpayers." 

That declaration seems to have been a deliberate response to a flurry of embarrassing travel-related stories coming out of the Trump White House lately. HHS secretary Tom Price, who came into his position under a different sort of ethical cloud, appears to have chartered at least 24 flights in the last few months, at a cost of about $300,000, ignoring vastly cheaper commercial flights operating at the same time. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and EPA administrator Scott Pruitt also appear to have abused their travel budgets for personal gain. Mnuchin appears to have used government jets to facilitate a family eclipse viewing. Pruitt--who is exploring the possibility of running for governor in his home state of Oklahoma--is under investigation by his own department for his frequent trips there in government aircraft.

Trump himself took a government plane (Air Force One) to his summer retreat, where he's expected to spend the weekend--except for a separate campaign trip to Alabama. Of course, Trump's travel isn't subject to the same rules as other government employees, but it does have costs, both for the Secret Service and local governments in the many cities Trump calls home. 

So what?

  • Presidents are responsible for the actions and ethical choices of their staff.
  • One employee not abusing her authority does not excuse several others who are.
  • Whether a cabinet employee is qualified for her job is more important than whether she is willing to spend a tiny fraction of her wealth on hotel rooms.