Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin speaks about sanctions against Turkey at a news briefing at the White House in Washington, October 11, 2019.
Yuri Gripas | Reuters
Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin is pushing to delay a proposed disclosure of Secret Service spending on presidential travel until after the 2020 election, a spokesperson for Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., said Thursday.
The Trump administration’s maneuvering to put off providing cost figures related to the agency’s protection of President Donald Trump comes as Mnuchin is in talks with Congress on a bill to move the Secret Service back to the Treasury Department, according to a report Wednesday in The Washington Post, which first reported on Mnuchin’s efforts.
The cost of protecting Trump while he is away from the nation’s capital has come under scrutiny.
According to the Post, Democrats have demanded that the legislation require the Secret Service, which was transferred from Treasury to the Department of Homeland Security in 2003, report costs related to Trump’s travel within 120 days after it is passed. The disclosure would also include costs of protecting Trump’s adult children, according to the newspaper.
The Treasury Department did not respond to a request for comment from CNBC, but an unnamed official confirmed to the Post that there were “ongoing” conversations about returning the Secret Service to Treasury.
The Government Accountability Office published a report in January 2019 finding that federal agencies incurred costs of $13.6 million in a period of just over a month in 2017 when Trump took four trips to his Florida club Mar-a-Lago.
In comparison, the government spent about $97 million on travel costs related to former President Barack Obama over his eight-year term, the conservative activist group Judicial Watch found in 2016.
Democrats including Feinstein, the top Democrat on the Judiciary Committee, began pushing for more transparency in presidential travel spending last year, the Post reported. Citing people familiar with those talks, the newspaper said that Feinstein wants the Secret Service to produce annual reports, with the first coming just months after Congress approves its transfer to the Treasury Department.
Mnuchin, on the other hand, said in a December 23 letter to the committee that he would like for information to be released in December 2020 at the earliest, according to Tom Mentzer, a Feinstein spokesman. The presidential election is in November.
“Secretary Mnuchin came to me last year with a proposal to move the Secret Service to the Treasury Department,” Feinstein said in a statement provided to the Post. “As part of that effort, I proposed that the cost of presidential travel be included for greater transparency, accountability and oversight associated with protection during travel of presidents and their families.”
Sen. Lindsey Graham, R-S.C., the Republican chairman of the Judiciary Committee, did not respond to requests for comment from CNBC on Mnuchin’s December letter. CNBC has not seen a copy of the letter and Feinstein’s office declined to release it.
Mnuchin’s proposed delay is likely to reduce support for the legislation among Democrats, the Post reported, citing unnamed sources who are monitoring the talks.
According to the GAO report, the Secret Service last reported costs of presidential travel protection in fiscal year 2015, and that officials “were unaware that reports had not been submitted until GAO requested this information.”
The Washington Post has counted more than 50 visits by the president to his properties outside the Washington area since he was inaugurated.
Democrats in the House and Senate have frequently criticized Trump’s visits to his private properties.
Democrats have pressed for legislation that would require visitor logs from Trump’s properties where he conducts business, demanded information from federal agencies on their spending at the properties, and asked the FBI to investigate potential security lapses.