American Oversight has received additional productions in response to our FOIA requests regarding top Trump administration officials’ trips prior to the 2020 election. This article has been updated below with new information about trips taken by former Homeland Security Secretary Chad Wolf and former Interior Secretary David Bernhardt.
Trips to swing states ahead of the 2020 election by former Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Andrew Wheeler and former Secretary of Labor Eugene Scalia cost taxpayers nearly $60,000 in staff travel and expenses, according to new records obtained by American Oversight.
These documents are the first productions American Oversight has received in response to a series of Freedom of Information Act requests submitted to provide transparency into potential conflict-of-interest concerns raised by the travel patterns of senior Trump officials during the run-up to the election.
Wheeler, for example, took highly publicized trips to Florida, Georgia, and North Carolina in October 2020, with public engagements on a variety of issues ranging from agricultural concerns to deregulating high-powered boat engines.
The EPA spent at least $53,034.66 on travel expenditures for staff supporting Wheeler on such trips — not even including Wheeler’s own travel costs — according to an American Oversight review of documents released in response to our FOIA requests The records show expenses for staffers who provided press relations, logistics, and protection support for Wheeler on trips to Florida, Pennsylvania, Michigan, and other swing states.
Separate records from the Department of Labor show $6,722.86 in expenses in the form of travel vouchers for Scalia aide Fernando Espinoza, which refer to “Advance Secy of Labor.”
Such government-funded trips by Trump cabinet officials to key states in the run-up to Election Day raised significant questions about violations of the Hatch Act, the law that bans officials from using government resources to influence elections. Although the trips were ostensibly to conduct official business, their timing — and to locations critical to Trump’s campaign — appeared aimed at buoying support for the president and his reelection bid.
In January 2022, we obtained records of trips taken to swing states by former acting Secretary of Homeland Security Chad Wolf in the days and weeks leading up to the election. The documents, which were reported on by Time, show that the use of government planes and other expenses incurred on Wolf’s trips cost taxpayers $223,652.
Wolf made stops in Florida, Pennsylvania, Wisconsin, Michigan, Arizona, and in Texas, where he celebrated Trump’s border wall and warned of crime and national security risks related to immigration. Previously, we have obtained records that showed the secretary’s controversial trip to Portland, Ore., at the time of the July 2020 racial justice protests cost $86,394.
Other documents obtained by American Oversight from the Department of the Interior in March 2022 indicate that the agency spent a total of $4,030.38 on Secretary David Bernhardt’s trips to Arizona, Iowa, Ohio, North Carolina, Colorado, and New Mexico in September and October 2020.