Health Secretary Tom Price resigns amid travel flap

Image courtesy of AP

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump’s health secretary has resigned, after his travel on costly charter flights triggered investigations and angered his boss.

Tom Price’s partial repayment and public regrets couldn’t save his job.

The Health and Human Services secretary became the first member of the president’s Cabinet to leave office in a turbulent young administration that has seen several high-ranking White House aides ousted. Price served less than 8 months.

Trump had said he was “not happy” with Price for hiring private charters on the taxpayer’s dime for official travel, when cheaper commercial flights would have worked.

The flap over Price has overshadowed Trump’s agenda and prompted scrutiny of other Cabinet members’ travel. The House Oversight and Government Reform committee has launched a broad investigation of top political appointees.

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3:40 p.m.

President Donald Trump says he’ll soon have a decision on the fate of his embattled health secretary — maybe as early as today.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price has been dogged by criticism over a pattern of booking costly charter flights for official travel.

The president says he will be “announcing something in the pretty near future.” Trump says Price has not offered to resign.

Price is a “good man,” Trump added, but he’s “not happy” over the travel flap.

“I don’t like the optics,” he told reporters as he left the White House for the weekend.

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2:35 p.m.

The Environmental Protection Agency says four flights on noncommercial aircraft taken by Administrator Scott Pruitt were preapproved by ethics lawyers.

Documents show Pruitt and his staff chartered a private plane for an Aug. 4 trip from Denver to Durango, Colorado, to visit the Gold King Mine, site of a spill last year. The administrator also took three flights on government-owned planes to New York, North Dakota and a roundtrip between airports in Pruitt’s native Oklahoma.

Letters released by EPA show the flights cost a total of $58,000 and were approved by the agency’s general counsel’s office.

EPA’s inspector general opened an inquiry last month into Pruitt’s frequent taxpayer-funded travel on commercial planes. The Associated Press reported earlier this year that Pruitt often spends weekends at his Tulsa home.

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12:20 p.m.

Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke says he’s taken three charter flights since March, including a late-night trip costing more than $12,000 from Las Vegas to his home state of Montana in June.

Zinke says no commercial flight was available at the time he planned to speak to Western governors.

Zinke said Friday he also traveled by private plane in Alaska in May and the U.S. Virgin Islands in March. Zinke wants to expand energy prodcution in Alaska, while the Interior Department oversees the three U.S. Virgin Islands.

Zinke says he also went on a military flight with the agriculture secretary to see wildfires in Montana. Zinke says his travel was approved in advance by Interior’s ethics officials.

He says he works to “make sure I am above the law and I follow the law.”

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12:01 p.m.

The secretary of the Department of Veterans Affairs says information about his official travel will be posted on the department’s website.

Secretary David Shulkin says he has not used private aircraft for official business, but has taken six trips on military aircraft.

The trip details will include the type of aircraft, members of the traveling party and information about the events he was attending.

His decision to post his travel information comes as Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price finds his job in jeopardy over his use of costly charters. Price has said he would reimburse the U.S. Treasury nearly $52,000 for the cost of his seat on the charter flights. He has not addressed the overall cost of the flights, which are estimated to cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

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11:50 a.m.:

AP sources say President Donald Trump has been telling associates that health secretary Tom Price has become a distraction, undermining his “Drain the Swamp” campaign promise.

Price is engulfed in a controversy about his use of costly charter planes on government business. His public regrets and partial repayment don’t seem to have calmed the furor.

Two people familiar with Trump’s private discussions — but not authorized to speak publicly— told The Associated Press the president is deeply frustrated.

Trump has told people close to him that he believes Price’s run of bad headlines has stepped on the launch of his tax overhaul plan.

—By Jonathan Lemire in New York.

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3:40 a.m.

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price says he’s paying out of his own pocket nearly $52,000 to cover the cost of his travel on charter flights taken for government business.

Price is promising to fly commercial from now on, a pledge that comes with his job on the line amid criticism from President Donald Trump and others questioning why he hasn’t used cheaper public flights.

Price also is expressing regret for raising concerns about his handling of taxpayer dollars. But he hasn’t addressed the matter of the cost for others who flew with him, an added expense that could amount to several hundred thousand dollars.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has launched a wide-ranging investigation into travel by Price as well as other Trump political appointees.

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