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Treasury OIG releases Mnuchin probe results

Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin, top right, was joined by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, lower right, in an Aug. 21 inspection of the nation's gold reserves housed at the Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository.

Fort Knox image courtesy of U.S. Mint; Mnuchin, McConnell images official government portraits.

Seven trips costing $811,800 taken by Treasury Secretary Stephen T. Mnuchin aboard government aircraft, including an Aug. 21 jaunt to Kentucky to inspect the nation's gold reserves at the Fort Knox Bullion Depository, were legal, but poorly justified, according to the findings of an investigation by the Treasury Department's Office of Inspector General.

The results of the probe were contained in a 21-page report released Oct. 5 by the OIG.

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The investigation looked into nine requests for use of government aircraft made on behalf of Mnuchin as Treasury secretary. Seven trips taken, totaling $811,800, resulted in the use of military aircraft, with one scheduled for later in October, and one request withdrawn. The withdrawn request was for Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, to take a purported honeymoon trip to Europe.

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The OIG's chief counsel, Rich Delmar, was tasked with investigating multiple uses of government aircraft to shuttle Mnuchin to his scheduled locations after inquiries were made by the media and general public into Mnuchin's use of military aircraft for the Fort Knox trip. Criticism centered on the trip’s timing, as it included viewing the solar eclipse from a rooftop observation area.

Use of the military aircraft was documented to have cost $26,900.25, according to the investigative findings.

Delmar looked into planning for Mnuchin's trip and justification, a stop included in Louisville the same day for a business luncheon.

According to the OIG report, request was made for the Fort Knox trip for Mnuchin to be accompanied by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Kentucky, and other officials to visit the bullion depository. The trip was originally scheduled for early August, but was pushed back to accommodate a delay in the Senate’s recess. McConnell and others were presented with six potential dates, with Aug. 21 coincidentally agreeable to all involved.

"There was no indication that the date was chosen to coincide with the solar eclipse," according to Delmar's findings.

Linton was noted to have accompanied her husband on the flights to and from Kentucky.

"Records indicated that the applicable reimbursement amount was determined, and was paid by the Secretary," according to the OIG report.

Still, the report on Mnuchin’s use of military flights found that “with few exceptions, the commercial air system used by millions of Americans every day is appropriate, even for very senior officials,” adding, “OIG advise that future requests be ready to justify government air in greater detail, especially regarding cost comparisons and needs for security and other special factors.”

Mnuchin’s visit to the gold vaults of the Fort Knox was the first by a Treasury secretary in 69 years. It had been more than four decades since a senior Treasury Department official inspected the bulk of the nation’s gold reserves.

U.S. Mint Director Mary Brooks led a contingent of congressional representatives and journalists on Sept. 23, 1974, to take inventory of the nation’s gold reserves amid concerns some of the gold may be missing. A subsequent audit accounted for all of the gold, with none recorded missing.

The Fort Knox Gold Bullion Depository’s security and operation is overseen by the U.S. Mint, a Treasury Department bureau under Mnuchin’s authority.

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