Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price, who was dogged by accusations of insider trading before his appointment earlier this year, has continued his ethically dubious behavior in his new job. Just last week, the former Georgia congressman chartered five private flights, breaking from the behavior of his predecessors and spending tens of thousands more than commercial flights would have cost, according to Politico.
The flights took him to Maine, where he participated in a panel discussion with a health-care company CEO, and New Hampshire and Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where he visited local health centers. White House counselor Kellyanne Conway accompanied Price on the short flight to Philadelphia.
Politico couldn’t confirm the cost of Price’s private travel, but experts guessed it would have run $60,000 on the low end. It’s also not clear how Price paid for these chartered jets, but the organizations he visited said they didn’t foot the bill, meaning taxpayers were almost certainly on the hook. “When commercial aircraft cannot reasonably accommodate travel requirements, charter aircraft can be used for official travel,” an HHS spokesperson told the site.
Price’s standards of “reasonable” accommodation must be very high. How else to explain taking a roughly $25,000 charter from Washington, D.C., to Philadelphia, when commercial flights and Amtrak could just as easily, if not quite as comfortably, have gotten him there?
It’s unclear how many times Price has chartered private planes since his swearing-in in February, but anonymous staffers tell Politico it’s been going on for months. And though it’s not illegal, it’s certainly questionable, especially for a Republican who has advocated cuts to Medicaid and the NIH. In Congress, he frequently railed against wasteful government spending, once taking on government officials who insist on using private planes.
For Price though, this about more than hypocrisy. He is quickly emerging as one of the most ethically questionable members of the Trump cabinet, one who continues to act as if he’s above the standards expected for other Americans. In an alternate universe, where the president wasn’t perpetually producing new controversies and embarrassments, Price’s prior ethical concerns might even have prevented him from ascending to his current position.
After all, this is the guy who traded more than $300,000 worth of stock in health companies while pushing legislation to benefit those same companies. One of these firms gave Price a sweetheart deal, and he repaid the favor by helping to change the FDA-approval process to benefit the company. When he cashed out of the stock in February, he’d made a six-figure profit. It was enough that former U.S. Attorney Preet Bharara had taken notice and was reportedly investigating Price’s stock trades.
Price was confirmed by the Senate despite the accusations, and Trump fired Bharara in March. Now Price has a new scandal that, again, in an alternate universe, might take down a cabinet official. But this is Trump’s universe, a place where it’s impossible to say what will happen next.