Mnuchin’s Middle East business trips cost Secret Service up to $253,000
Former Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin took three post-presidency business trips to the Middle East in February, April and June 2021 that cost taxpayers up to $253,000 in Secret Service protection, according to Secret Service records obtained by CREW.
Lodging alone cost the Secret Service $117,800, and some charges for rooms at the Four Seasons in Abu Dhabi exceeded the per diem for government employees.
Ordinarily, a former Cabinet secretary would not qualify for Secret Service protection, but Trump granted a six month extension of protection for three members of his administration and his adult children, which cost taxpayers $1.7 million, according to the Washington Post. Mnuchin was the most expensive person for the Secret Service to protect over that period, with the total bill coming to $479,000. The newly obtained records show that Mnuchin’s three trips to the Middle East alone likely made up more than half of the cost of his protection over the course of the six month extension.
Mnuchin’s travels included a weeklong February trip to Qatar and the UAE, a six day April trip to Qatar, the UAE and Saudi Arabia, and a nine day June trip to Israel, the UAE, Qatar and Saudi Arabia. These tours of the Middle East started just a few weeks after Mnuchin left the administration, and seem to have been oriented around securing funds for his private equity firm and opening an office in Tel Aviv, which he announced during his June visit to the city. Each of the other countries he visited invested in his firm, with Saudi Arabia investing $1 billion, and Qatar and the UAE investing $500 million each.
Adding another wrinkle, Michael D’Ambrosio, who was an assistant director at the Secret Service through the end of May 2021 became a managing director at Mnuchin’s firm the same spring.
During the Trump administration, Mnuchin’s involvement with the region went beyond what was typical; he visited the Middle East and met with the leaders of sovereign wealth funds more than previous Treasury secretaries. Along with Jared Kushner, who also launched a private equity firm with significant Middle Eastern investments after leaving the administration, Mnuchin was involved in projects in the Middle East during his time in the administration, like the Abraham Fund, a U.S. government sponsored fund intended to invest in projects in the Middle East.
Mnuchin’s quick transition from offering U.S. government cash to Middle Eastern countries to asking those countries for investments in his private investment fund just months later is a serious ethics issue, and exposes a gap in criminal conflict of interest law.
As CREW wrote when news first broke of his Middle Eastern investments, “A one-year cooling-off period prohibiting foreign business activity by former senior officials like Mnuchin and Friedman would help mitigate concerns that, as government officials, they could act against U.S. foreign policy and national security interests to further their own personal post-administration business interests.”
Mnuchin’s post-administration business trips and solicitation of investments from the Middle East raised ethics questions from the beginning. The quarter of a million dollar price tag for taxpayers only underscores the cost of Mnuchin’s quick transition between running the Treasury Department and running a private equity firm.