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Trump’s health czar re­signs over pricey char­ter flights

New York Daily News - - FRONT PAGE - BY TER­ENCE CULLEN and CHRISTO­PHER BREN­NAN

HIGH-FLY­ING Health and Hu­man Ser­vices Sec­re­tary Tom Price is hit­ting the high­way af­ter mount­ing ques­tions arose about his use of pri­vate jets.

The former Ge­or­gia con­gress­man and physi­cian was un­der in­ves­ti­ga­tion for us­ing char­ter planes in­stead of cheaper com­mer­cial op­tions, a prac­tice that has cost tax­pay­ers a re­ported $1 mil­lion since May.

Trump, who had voiced his dis­plea­sure with the neg­a­tive at­ten­tion his Cab­i­net mem­ber re­ceived, called Price a “very fine man” ear­lier Fri­day, but the White House an­nounced hours later that the sec­re­tary had re­signed.

“I have spent 40 years both as a doc­tor and pub­lic ser­vant putting peo­ple first. I re­gret that re­cent events have cre­ated a dis­trac­tion from these im­por­tant ob­jec­tives,” Price said in his res­ig­na­tion let­ter, adding the de­part­ment had been “work­ing to re­form a bro­ken health care sys­tem.”

He will be tem­po­rar­ily re­placed by Deputy As­sis­tant Sec­re­tary for Health Don J. Wright.

The outgoing sec­re­tary — and former bud­get hawk — had tried to save his skin this week by an­nounc­ing he’d re­im­burse the feds $52,000 for part of his trips and promis­ing to stop us­ing char­tered flights all to­gether.

Fed­eral em­ploy­ees are in­structed to fly com­mer­cial un­less ab­so­lutely nec­es­sary, and Price’s pen­chant for pri­vate travel was a de­par­ture from pre­vi­ous sec­re­taries.

News of his flight habits be­gan trick­ling out in the last two weeks, as oth­ers in the ad­min­is­tra­tion such as Trea­sury Sec­re­tary Steve Mnuchin had faced crit­i­cism for their own char­ter flights af­ter Trump had promised to “drain the swamp” of Wash­ing­ton elitism.

Of­fice of Man­age­ment and Bud­get Di­rec­tor Mick Mul­vaney re­leased a memo Fri­day evening of­fer­ing re­newed guid­ance on the travel pol­icy and say­ing “just be­cause some­thing is le­gal doesn’t make it right.”

He added that, with some ex­cep­tions, top fed­eral em­ploy­ees should now ask for ap­proval from White House Chief of Staff John Kelly be­fore tak­ing gov­ern­ment-owned and char­tered

flights. Price’s trips un­der scru­tiny in­cluded short flights to Philadel­phia and a va­ca­tion is­land in Ge­or­gia as well as faroff ones to Europe, Africa and Asia. His over­seas ven­tures, us­ing mil­i­tary planes ap­proved by the White House and with his wife by his side, cost tax­pay­ers $500,000, Politico re­ported. Re­ports of his pri­vate-jet use seemed to have irked Pres­i­dent Trump, who told re­porters Wed­nes­day that he was “not happy.” When asked if his sec­re­tary could pay the price with his job, Trump sim­ply said, “We’ll see,” a line he re­peated again Fri­day be­fore the de­par­ture.

Trump had told re­porters a de­ci­sion on Price’s fate would be made Fri­day night. He ap­par­ently re­signed af­ter Trump’s com­ments.

Trump’s ad­min­is­tra­tion has been marked by an in­cred­i­ble amount of turnover.

Dur­ing his nine months in of­fice, chief strate­gist Steve Ban­non, Na­tional Se­cu­rity Ad­viser Michael Flynn, Chief of Staff Reince Priebus, Com­mu­ni­ca­tions Di­rec­tor An­thony Scara­mucci, Press Sec­re­tary Sean Spicer and spe­cial ad­viser Sebastian Gorka — among oth­ers — have ei­ther re­signed or been fired.

Price had in­sisted Thurs­day he had Trump’s con­fi­dence to stay on the job.

But be­yond his flights, Price’s ten­ure was marred by botched ef­forts to re­peal and re­place Oba­macare.

At a speech to Boy Scouts in July, the Pres­i­dent threat­ened to tell Price ‘you’re fired’ if he did not get leg­is­la­tion passed.

HHS Sec­re­tary Tom Price stepped down af­ter run­ning up a re­ported $1 mil­lion in air­plane bills since May.

Tom Price’s ten­ure as Health and Hu­man Ser­vices di­rec­tor has come to an un­cer­e­mo­ni­ous end.

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