WASHINGTON (AP) — The Treasury Department's office of the inspector general said Tuesday it is looking into a trip a top Treasury official took on a plane owned by a wealthy hedge fund operator.
Eli Miller, chief of staff for Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, flew with Nelson Peltz, a founding partner in Trian Fund Management, on a trip to Palm Beach, Florida earlier this year.
Treasury confirmed the trip but said that Miller had gotten clearance to take the flight. Rich Delmar, counsel to the department's inspector general, said that the IG's office was looking into the travel, which was first reported by The Washington Post.
The investigation was the latest development in an on-going controversy over the use of government and private planes by top Trump administration officials. The issue has already cost one Cabinet member his job. Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned Friday after questions were raised about Price's use of private jets for multiple government business trips.
Regarding Miller's flight to Palm Beach, Treasury said in a statement, "The Treasury ethics office advised Mr. Miller that he was permitted to accept a seat on a plane from a friend with whom he has a pre-existing relationship under federal ethics law."
Delmar, counsel to the Treasury Department's inspector general, said that he had asked the department for information about the flight. The federal government has numerous ethics rules aimed at preventing individuals from seeking to influence government policy by providing gifts to public officials.
Treasury's IG office is already investigating all requests that have been made for the use of government planes at Treasury. The investigation covers flights Mnuchin has made since becoming Treasury secretary and also a controversial request for use of a government plane during Mnuchin's European honeymoon this summer, a request that was later withdrawn. Officials with the Treasury IG have said they hope to have their report done by the middle of this month.
Mnuchin said Sunday that he was looking forward to release of the IG report. Interviewed on NBC's "Meet the Press," he said that all the flights he took had been approved by the White House and were done under guidelines used by previous Treasury secretaries.
Mnuchin last month said that a request he had made for a government jet for travel on his honeymoon trip to Europe had been made on national security grounds so that he could have secure communications during the trip. He said the request was withdrawn when other methods were arranged for his secure phone calls.
Mnuchin has used Air Force planes for foreign travel to meetings of financial officials in Germany and Italy earlier this year. He also flew military aircraft for a meeting with his Canadian counterpart in Canada, for a trip to Kentucky for discussions on tax reform with Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell, and to tour America's gold reserves at Fort Knox.
ABC News has reported that Mnuchin had used a government jet on a return trip to Washington after participating in a Trump news conference on Aug. 15 in New York. Mnuchin said that in that instance, he used a government plane because of the need for a secure communications link.
"I had a secure call that day that was critical and set up. It needed to be done at that time and that's why I used it (a government plane)," Mnuchin said in an interview with ABC.