In a five-month span last year, President Donald Trump’s lead trade negotiator Robert Lighthizer took five international flights that cost taxpayers more than $44,000.
Lighthizer, the U.S. Trade Representative, took flights to Canada, France, Mexico, Togo and Vietnam costing $44,841 between May and September 2017, according to documents obtained by American Ledger from the Office of the U.S. Trade Representative. Lighthizer repeatedly justified the expense of flying in first- or business-class by saying he could not get work done in an economy-class seat.
Two other members of Trump’s Cabinet were forced from office last year after reports of their excess travel surfaced, and another had to pay back the cost of a chartered flight he took on a personal trip.
Lighthizer took the flights as he was working on trade deals to replace the Trans-Pacific Partnership after Trump pulled out of it and the North American Free Trade Agreement, which Trump believes was the “worst trade deal ever made.”
One business-class flight to Mexico City cost the government $2,705, plus an additional $421 in per diem allowances. Lighthizer said he needed the “time and space” of the premium seat.
Another first-class flight to Ottawa cost the government $3,031.30, with the trade representative arguing that first-class would afford him “sufficient time and space to prepare appropriate comments, actions (discussion points, etc.) and subsequent debriefings on the return that a coach seating will not accommodate.”
The documents show that the pattern of expensive travel by Trump administration officials continued despite widespread criticism. Former Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price resigned his office on Sept. 29 in the wake of reports that his travel aboard military aircraft – with his wife in tow – cost the government more than $500,000.
Former Secretary of Veterans Affairs David Shulkin was fired in March, weeks after an inspector general’s report found “serious derelictions” in his 10-day trip to Europe with his wife that cost taxpayers $122,000.
In another instance, the government improperly paid $12,357 for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke to fly on a chartered flight owned by a former campaign contributor for an event that had nothing to do with his official duties. Following media reports of the flight, Zinke repaid the cost to taxpayers.