In retrospect, it almost seems quaint: the resignation of Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price over his affection for chartering flights at taxpayers’ expense.
Price may not have read his ethics manual carefully before taking office, but he certainly knew the playbook for political shame. On September 28, 2017, Politico capped off its investigation into Price’s frequent noncommercial flights with a report that the health chief had run up a tab of more than $500,000 for international travel on military planes. Less than 24 hours later, Price submitted a four-paragraph resignation letter, apologizing for creating a “distraction” from the president’s agenda.
The rest was perhaps the most normal scandal in Donald Trump’s Washington: a Cabinet official submerging himself in the “swamp,” getting caught, and resigning shortly thereafter.
If only Price had known how easy it might have been to hang on. How mere months later, then–Environmental Protection Agency Administrator Scott Pruitt would indulge in a pattern of scandal and grift that made Price’s private planes look precious, but stay comfortably in his post until mid-summer. How the onetime Veterans Affairs head David Shulkin had taxpayers fund travel for his and his wife’s 10-day European vacation, which included sightseeing excursions and nice seats at Wimbledon. And most recently, how former Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke enmeshed himself in a web of suspicious real-estate deals, one of which made its way to the Justice Department for review, and then publicly accused the incoming chairman of the House Natural Resources Committee of being a drunk.