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Treasury Secretary Mnuchin asked to use government plane for honeymoon

Published: Thursday, September 14, 2017 @ 11:39 AM

In this Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, file photo, then Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin and his then-fiancee, Louise Linton, arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. Linton responded to a social media critic on Aug. 21, 2017, telling the mother of three that that she was
In this Friday, Jan. 20, 2017, file photo, then Treasury Secretary-designate Stephen Mnuchin and his then-fiancee, Louise Linton, arrive on Capitol Hill in Washington, for the presidential inauguration of Donald Trump. Linton responded to a social media critic on Aug. 21, 2017, telling the mother of three that that she was "adorably out of touch."€ Mnuchin and Linton were married in June. (Saul Loeb/Pool Photo via AP, File)(Saul Loeb/AP)

U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin inquired about using a government jet for his European honeymoon after marrying Scottish actress Louise Linton in June, officials confirmed Wednesday in a statement.

The request was later deemed to be unnecessary, a Treasury Department spokesman said.

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Mnuchin asked about using a government plane in an effort to ensure that he had access to secure communications while on his honeymoon, according to the Treasury Department.

“We have multiple issues around the world where the secretary is directly involved in national security, notably North Korea, Iran and Venezuela, among others,” a department spokesman said. “It is imperative that he have access to secure communications, and it is our practice to consider a wide range of options to ensure he has these capabilities during his travel, including the possible use of military aircraft.”

Another way to provide Mnuchin with access to secure communications was instead found, and the Treasury Department deemed his request to be unnecessary, officials said.

>> Treasury secretary won’t commit to putting Tubman on $20 bill

Critics slammed Mnuchin’s request, characterizing it as another example of the treasury secretary attempting to use tax payer dollars to fund personal travel. Also under scrutiny is a trip he and his wife made last month to Kentucky in which a government plane was used.

“You don’t need a giant rule book of government requirements to just say (to) yourself, ‘This is common sense, it’s wrong,’” Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Oregon, ranking member of the Senate Finance Committee, told ABC News on Wednesday. “That’s just slap-your-forehead stuff.”

 Politico reported that requests to use military jets for personal travel are unusual, but not unprecedented.

“Such trips can cost tens of thousands of dollars to operate per hour,” according to the news site. “Treasury secretaries tend to fly on commercial airlines but have used government planes for overseas work trips.”

Mnuchin, a wealthy, former Goldman Sachs banker, was criticized last month after he and his wife took a government jet to fly to Kentucky. Linton posted a photo to Instagram after the trip in which she promoted the high-end designer brands she wore while disembarking the government plane.

>> Treasury secretary's wife mocks 'adorably out of touch' critic on Instagram 

The Treasury Department is reviewing the flight to determine whether any ethical violations were made, The New York Times reported

A Treasury Department spokesperson told The Associated Press last month that Mnuchin and Linton are reimbursing the government for the cost of Linton’s travel and added that she was not given compensation for promoting the luxury brands on Instagram.

Some critics suggested Mnuchin and Linton traveled to Kentucky to get a better view of the solar eclipse, Politico reported, although Mnuchin has denied the allegation. He said that he was in the state, which was in the path of totality for the eclipse, for meetings on tax reform, according to Politico.

In a statement released to the Times, Richard Delmar, counsel to the inspector general, said, “We are looking at all requests for use of government aircraft.”

Fast Facts Louise Linton

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Winter storm threat shuts down federal government, cancels White House events

Published: Wednesday, March 21, 2018 @ 4:04 AM

While the calendar may say it is spring, another winter storm threatened the East Coast on Wednesday, prompting the federal government to close down offices in the Washington, D.C. area, and canceling public events for President Donald Trump at the White House.

While there was little snow on the ground as the sun came up on Wednesday, forecasters were warning of big snow totals from the nation’s capital, up the I-95 corridor through Pennsylvania and New Jersey.

But as the morning commute continued, there was little evidence in some spots of that storm.

“Total accumulation so far 1” of Salt,” tweeted Rep. Billy Long (R-MO), as he documented empty streets on his commute to the U.S. Capitol, as lawmakers from the heartland subtly mocked the snow scare.

The biggest snowfall totals seemed to be to north of the Washington area, up near the Mason-Dixon line along the Maryland and Pennsylvania border, where as much as two feet of snow could fall.

But federal officials did not take any chances, as they closed government offices on Wednesday.

Despite the weather threat, Congress was in session today, though some committees had scrapped hearings set for Wednesday morning, worried about the snow.

Both the House and Senate were still going to be in session, as lawmakers were trying to finish a giant funding bill, facing a Friday night shutdown deadline.

At the White House, it was a snow day as well – even without any snow on the ground in the morning – as the President erred on the side of caution, and canceled two events, including a Cabinet meeting.

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Portman: Firing Mueller would be ‘big mistake’

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 7:33 PM

            Special Counsel Robert Mueller.
Special Counsel Robert Mueller.

Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said today that it “would be a big mistake” for President Donald Trump to fire Independent Counsel Robert Mueller, who is investigating Russian officials trying to influence the 2016 election and whether the Trump campaign had any ties to those officials.

“I’ve said all along it would be a mistake to do so,” Portman told reporters on a conference call. “I think you have to let Mueller do his work. The American people deserve an answer.”

RELATED: Portman calls on pension panel to shed partisanship

Portman’s comments follow those of Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., who was quoted Tuesday as saying firing Mueller would “probably” be an impeachable offense. Graham had earlier said a Mueller firing would be “the beginning of the end” of the Trump presidency.

Portman said the intelligence community “has determined there was meddling in our election and we need to know more about it.”

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In Russia probe, Senate panel urges stronger election security

Published: Tuesday, March 20, 2018 @ 9:22 AM

Issuing the first report in the review of Russian interference in the 2016 elections, members of the Senate Intelligence Committee said Tuesday that a range of stepped up election security measures must be taken by local, state, and federal officials to address a series of gaps, which lawmakers in both parties say Moscow was obviously trying to exploit.

“It is clear the Russian government was looking for the vulnerabilities in our election system,” said Sen. Richard Burr (R-NC), the chairman of the Intelligence panel, which has been working for over a year to uncoil what cyber attacks Moscow was engaging in during the 2016 campaign for President.

“Russia attempted to penetrate 21 states; we know they were successful in penetrating at least one voter database,” Burr added at a bipartisan news conference on Capitol Hill.

The panel issued a two page summary of what Senators say should be changed, ranging from giving grants to states to help secure their election systems, and pushing states to replaced outdated voting machines, and ensure that such vote counting equipment is not connected to the internet .

While Burr again stressed that there was “no evidence that any vote was changed,” he made clear that the bottom line of the investigation shows Russia was a bad actor in 2016.

“Russia was trying to undermine the confidence in our election system,” Burr added.

“The Russians were relentless in trying to meddle in the 2016 elections,” said Sen. Susan Collins (R-ME), as she said Senators in both parties agree that Moscow is trying to do the same thing in 2018 in the United States, and in other Western democracies as well.

“We may never know the full extent of the Russian malicious attacks,” Collins added.

One idea suggested by committee members is for states to go back to paper ballots in the future, to insure that overseas actors can’t hack their way into the voting process.

The panel will hold a hearing on Wednesday to go over these findings and recommendations related to election security, as Burr and other Senators stressed that their overall review of Russia’s 2016 election meddling continues.

The news conference demonstrated the difference between the investigations into Russian interference in the House and Senate, as Senators of both parties joined together, while over in the House, the two sides have been issuing dueling memos and reports.

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Red Ink Rising – National debt goes over $21 trillion

Published: Monday, March 19, 2018 @ 8:44 PM

A week after the feds announced the largest budget deficit in February in six years, the national debt edged over $21 trillion for the first time ever on Monday, as budget experts argue the U.S. is on a track that will likely again feature yearly deficits of $1 trillion, a level reached only during the Obama Administration.

“This is unsustainable,” said Rep. Justin Amash (R-MI).

The $21 trillion debt milestone was hit as lawmakers in Congress were trying to place the finishing touches on a giant Omnibus funding bill which will increase deficits by well over $100 billion in 2018, because of extra spending approved for both domestic and defense accounts.

Even before that, budget watchdogs were warning of a new tide of red ink in the Trump Administration.

“Thanks to the recent budget-busting tax cuts and spending deal, the national debt is skyrocketing and on an unsustainable course,” said Maya MacGuineas, head of the Committee for a Responsible Federal Budget.

The February budget numbers had two main reasons why the monthly deficit jumped to $215 billion – up from $192 billion in 2017 – less revenue coming in to Uncle Sam, and more spending.

Tax revenues were $155 billion in February, down from $171 billion a year ago.

While deficits are heading back up, there’s no hint of action in the Congress on any plan to restrain spending, though only a handful GOP lawmakers publicly grumbled about the situation, as they waited to see what exactly was in the Omnibus.

But the Omnibus has become almost a normal spending tool for Congress, unable to get through the dozen yearly spending bills on time.

For the current 2018 Fiscal Year, lawmakers were supposed to have finished 12 funding measures by October 1 of last year – but that spending work has only been completed on time in four of the last 43 years – one reason there are calls to overhaul the system.

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