2 top Dems demand public hearings on Trump Cabinet travel

WASHINGTON — Two top Democrats on a House committee are demanding public hearings to force top Trump administration officials to explain their costly plane travel.

In a letter Tuesday, Reps. Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House oversight committee, and Raja Krishnamoorthi, a subcommittee chair, complained that federal agencies and the White House had repeatedly resisted the committee's requests made last fall for information on the extent of senior officials travel. Their request to Republican chairman Trey Gowdy cites recent reports of travel by Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt involving military aircraft that cost taxpayers tens of thousands of dollars.

Open hearings are needed to air out government spending before U.S. taxpayers and ensure "their hard-earned money is not wasted," Cummings and Krishnamoorthi wrote.

A spokeswoman for Gowdy did not have immediate comment.

The lawmakers' call comes amid growing questions over Trump Cabinet members' spending and travel following Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price's resignation last fall over his pricey travel. Last week, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin was ousted, in part over ethics violations during an 11-day trip to Europe in which his staff doctored emails to justify his wife traveling for free at taxpayer expense.

In their letter, Cummings and Krishanmoorthi complain that federal agencies have yet to fully respond to the oversight committee's requests last September that sought information on the use of government-owned aircraft for personal travel or private aircraft for official travel. They point in particular to delay from the White House, which they said had issued a series of "evolving and bizarre refusals" to avoid disclosing the extent of its private travel.

Last month, the watchdog group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington released documents showing that Mnuchin had taken eight trips on military aircraft last year that totaled nearly $1 million, including a trip to Miami that cost more than $40,000.

Pruitt also has come under fire for a flight to Italy to attend a G-7 summit that cost taxpayers more than $120,000; the trip included a private tour of the Vatican. The Associated Press reported that the known cost of Pruitt's previously reported trip grew last month after the agency disclosed a heavily censored document showing expenses for Pruitt's security detail cost more than $30,500. That's on top of nearly $90,000 spent for food, hotels, commercial airfare and a military jet used by Pruitt and nine EPA staff.

Other Cabinet secretaries being scrutinized for their use of government or private flights costing tens of thousands of dollars are Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke and Energy Secretary Rick Perry.

The Cabinet secretaries have generally denied wrongdoing and defended their travel as pre-approved and appropriate for their work.

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Follow Hope Yen on Twitter at https://twitter.com/hopeyen1

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