Treasury Secretary’s Eclipse Getaway Fuels Records Suit

This screenshot of a now-deleted post shows the comments inspired by an Aug. 21, 2017, photograph of Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin and his wife, Louise Linton, departing the government plane they took to see the historic solar eclipse in Kentucky. (Instagram via Courthouse News Service)

WASHINGTON (CN) – A government watchdog filed suit Monday to expose public records on a taxpayer-funded trip Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin took with his wife took to see the historic eclipse.

Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington says it filed its complaint in Washington because the request it filed on Aug. 23 under the Freedom of Information Act is gathering dust.

Two days earlier on Aug. 21, Mnuchin traveled to Lexington, Kentucky, with his wife, Louise Linton, for a luncheon with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky., after which the couple viewed the solar eclipse from Fort Knox, which was close to the path of totality.

Though most did not do so on government planes, thousands of people flocked to areas in the United States located along the path of totality to view the cosmic event in its full glory.

CREW wants to know why Mnuchin and Linton did not fly commercial for a trip that appeared to be planned around the eclipse.

“At a time of expected deep cuts to the federal budget, the taxpayers have a significant interest in learning the extent to which Secretary Mnuchin has used government planes for travel in lieu of commercial planes, and the justification for that use,” the 7-page complaint notes.

A Scottish-born actress, Linton inspired criticism upon returning from the trip when she posted a photograph to Instagram of herself departing the plane, decked out in designer clothing, alongside Mnuchin.

In the caption of the photo, which has since been deleted, Linton used hashtags to identify each piece of her expensive clothing by brand name.

As Americans gathered along the path of totality on Aug. 21, 2017, to get the best view of the historic solar eclipse, Sen. Mitch McConnell posted this photograph to Facebook, showing the Kentucky Republican posing outside Fort Knox with Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin. (Jill Westeyn/U.S. Mint via Courthouse News Service)

The media firestorm came to a head when Linton condescendingly responded to Instagram poster Jenni Miller, who chided her for taking a “little getaway” on the taxpayer’s dime.

“Aw!!! Did you think this was a personal trip?! Adorable! Do you think the US govt paid for our honeymoon or personal travel?! Lololol,” Linton wrote. “Have you given more to the economy than me and my husband? Either as an individual earner in taxes OR in self sacrifice to your country?”

The post went on to say she and Mnuchin paid more in taxes toward the trip than Miller did, and that the amount she and Mnuchin are willing to “sacrifice” each year is more than Miller would be willing to if she could. 

“You’re adorably out of touch. Thanks for the passive aggressive nasty comment. Your kids look very cute. Your life looks cute,” Linton wrote to Miller. “I know you’re mad but deep down you’re really nice and so am I. Sending me passive aggressive Instagram comments isn’t going to make life feel better.”

Linton concluded by telling Miller to “go chill out and watch the new game of thrones. It’s fab!”

In addition to information about the costs of the trip and the Treasury Department’s authorization of it, the underlying FOIA request also seeks records about any other travel Mnuchin has done on government planes since his appointment. 

“We filed an expedited FOIA request because Americans deserve more information to determine whether there has been misuse of government resources,” CREW Executive Director Noah Bookbinder said in a statement about the lawsuit. “We’re suing because the government has so far failed even to respond.”

Though the Treasury Department has a policy of not commenting on open litigation, an official there noted that FOIA cases involving “unusual circumstances” include 10-day extensions to the usual 10-day response deadline.

“Decisions on whether to grant expedition have been left for agency FOIA officers to make on a case-by-case basis,” the Treasury official added.

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