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Price resignation over charter flights amid questions about other Cabinet members’ travel

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price resigned Friday after it was revealed that he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private flights for himself and his staff. Similar questions about the use of expensive charter flights have also been raised about other Cabinet members. John Yang joins Judy Woodruff to recap what happened.

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  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    But now let's return to the resignation of Tom Price, and similar questions being raised about other members of the Trump Cabinet.

    Price stepped down after it was revealed he spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on private airplane flights for himself and his staff.

    Just yesterday, he pledged to pay back about $50,000, but only for his seat.

    In the past few days, other Cabinet members have come under scrutiny for air travel, including EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt, Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, Veterans Affairs Secretary David Shulkin, and Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin.

    Just before Price's departure was announced today, President Trump signaled to reporters why he was in trouble.

  • PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP:

    It's not a question of confidence.

    I was disappointed, because I didn't like it, cosmetically or otherwise. I was disappointed. And, you know, this is an administration that saves hundreds of millions of dollars on renegotiating things. So, I don't like to see somebody that perhaps there's the perception that it wasn't right.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And now our John Yang is here to help bring us up to speed.

    So, John, this has come all about very quickly. We were just saying it just was disclosed a few days ago. What have you learned from the White House about what's behind this?

  • JOHN YANG:

    Well, despite the president saying on the lawn to reporters that he was going to make a decision tonight, White House officials are now saying that Secretary Price submitted his resignation earlier today.

    And, by the way, in his letter, he referred to the controversy as recent events. The president was already a little bit down on Price because of the failure to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act, but he was very unhappy over these reports that, in the space of three days earlier this month, Price took five chartered flights including a $25,000 round-trip between Washington and Philadelphia.

    He, of course, had prided himself, the president, on saving taxpayers money.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    And, John, what makes this even more striking is that Tom Price, before he was in the Trump Cabinet, member of Congress from Georgia, conservative, often very critical of government waste.

  • JOHN YANG:

    That's right. Typical is this speech that Price made on the House floor in 2005.

    He said: "Too often, money that comes to Washington never gets back home because it is eaten away by waste, fraud and abuse."

    And, of course, Price had been talking about — as HHS secretary, had championed big cuts in federal spending proposed by the Trump administration and had talked about bringing efficiency to HHS..

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, John, we just listed these other — four other Cabinet members now who had been identified as using private charter jets to go somewhere. Are they in trouble, too?

  • JOHN YANG:

    Well, earlier today, one of those Cabinet secretaries, Ryan Zinke of Interior, said he had done nothing wrong.

    RYAN ZINKE, Secretary of the Interior: The flights were only booked after extensive due diligence by the career professionals and the department's General Law and Ethics Division.

  • JOHN YANG:

    There are inspector generals investigations going on at EPA into Scott Pruitt, at Treasury into Steven Mnuchin. And the White House has put down — laid down the law. They say no more private chartered planes until they have a chance to review this whole thing.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    So, we don't know whether other Cabinet members may have been engaged or sub-Cabinet, for that matter, may have been engaged in the same thing?

  • JOHN YANG:

    That's exactly right.

    The White House said they were not involved in these decisions before they took place. They do sometimes get involved about military planes, which are sometimes used for the security of the Cabinet official, or if the Cabinet official needs to have secure communications for national security reasons.

    But they had no role, they say, in these private charters.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    Not a quiet week at the White House.

  • JOHN YANG:

    No.

  • JUDY WOODRUFF:

    John Yang, thank you.

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