WASHINGTON (AP) — Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Thursday the initial request for use of a government plane for his European trip last month was about national security and not his own personal convenience on his honeymoon.
Mnuchin said as a member of the president's National Security Council he needed a secure communication link with Washington and his staff put in a request for use of an Air Force jet for his honeymoon trip with his wife Louise Linton to Scotland, France and Italy.
But he said it was just an option being explored and once it became clear he could obtain secure communications links without a government plane, the request was withdrawn.
"Let me just set the record straight. First of all, the government never paid for any of my personal travel," Mnuchin said at a conference sponsored by Politico. "This had nothing to do with convenience. This was purely about national security."
Mnuchin denied reports that he and his wife used a government plane to travel to Kentucky so they could view last month's solar eclipse. He said the trip had originally been scheduled for a different time and added that he was not very interested in the celestial spectacle in the first place.
"You know, people in Kentucky took this stuff very serious," he told the conference. "Being a New Yorker and (living for a time in) California, I was like, the eclipse? Really? I don't have any interest in watching the eclipse."
He did view the event with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell as part of a visit to Fort Knox, where the nation has $200 billion worth of gold stored. He said he scrapped a staff plan to view it from the roof of a building at Fort Knox and instead looked at it briefly from the ground using a pair of eclipse glasses that someone handed him.
Asked by the moderator if it was an "eclipse boondoggle," Mnuchin said, "We went to see For Knox .... Fort Knox is a symbol of the economic might of our country."
President Donald Trump said he had "total confidence" in his Treasury secretary.
"I have known him a very long time," Trump told reporters on Air Force One after viewing hurricane damage in Florida. "He is a very straight shooter .... He's a very honorable man."
Treasury's Office of Inspector General, however, confirmed Thursday that it was looking into "all requests for and use of government aircraft" at Treasury.
The Kentucky trip sparked controversy after Mnuchin's wife posted a photo on Instagram that showed Mnuchin and Linton stepping off the government jet. In her post, Linton included hashtags of various luxury designers she was wearing, which prompted criticism from an Oregon mother of three who wrote "glad we could pay for your little getaway."
"Pretty sure the amount we sacrifice per year is a lot more than you'd be willing to sacrifice if the choice was yours," Linton wrote back.
Linton later apologized for her comments.
Treasury secretaries in the past have flown commercial on domestic trips but have used Air Force jets on official travel overseas.
This story has been updated to correct the spelling of Linton's first name. It's Louise, not Louis.