Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin on Thursday defended his request to take a government plane on his honeymoon, insisting that it was about national security, and “not about convenience.”
Reports that Mnuchin had asked to take a government plane with his new wife, actress Louise Linton, to Europe for their honeymoon this summer prompted immediate criticism on Wednesday.
But speaking at the POLITICO Pro Policy Summit on Thursday, Mnuchin described the controversy over the request as overblown. The Treasury Department considered it, he said, because he needed access to secure communications channels while on the trip. He added that he ultimately withdrew the request after finding another option.
“Let me be clear: I’m very sensitive to the use of government funds,” Mnuchin said. “I’ve never asked the government to pay for my personal travel, and this was purely about alternatives of how I’d be able to be involved for national security.”
Mnuchin said he spends “probably over 50 percent” of his time on national security issues and sanctions and speaks to President Donald Trump and officials such as Defense Secretary James Mattis almost daily.
“This was something that, again, we just considered amongst other things,” Mnuchin said at another point.
Mnuchin’s comments echo an earlier defense from a department spokesperson, who said the secretary made the request because “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.”
The Treasury secretary quickly came under fire for the request. But Trump defended Mnuchin as a “straight shooter” on Thursday, though he noted that he did not “know anything about it” because he had just heard about the controversy.
“I doubt he would do it,” Trump told reporters Thursday afternoon. “I’ve known him a long time, he is a very straight shooter. So it could be he used a plane and he’s paying for it. I don’t know anything about it, I really don’t. I just heard about it a little while ago.”
Asked if he has confidence in Mnuchin, the president replied, “Total confidence. I’ve known him for a long time. He’s a very honorable man.”
Last month, Mnuchin and Linton were similarly criticized because of a trip they took via government plane to Kentucky, where they watched the solar eclipse. In that case, Mnuchin was there with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell to talk tax policy.
Linton prompted a controversy of her own when she got into an argument with a commenter on Instagram over a photo she had posted boasting about the various designer brands she was wearing.
Mnuchin on Thurday defended the trip to Kentucky as well, adding that he was not even really interested in viewing the eclipse. He was sort of worried about its effects on his eyes, he said.
“We got there, I was like, ‘Really? I don’t have any interest in watching the eclipse,'” Mnuchin said. “We never went on the roof, I didn’t even stay for the optimal time — I watched the roof, 15 minutes ahead of time. I put on the glasses, they’re like paper glasses. I’m like, ‘I’m worried I’m going to get my eyes burned out.’ I put it on for like two seconds. That was the end of my interest in the eclipse.”