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Behind the investigation into former HHS secretary's travels Date: 11/01/17

Tom Price

By Joanne Kenen

It began with a casual conversation with a source – and ended with Secretary of Health and Human Services Tom Price’s resignation. The two Politico health reporters who broke the story described their investigation into his taxpayer-funded travels in a Politico Magazine piece.

Rachana Pradhan got the first tip in the spring. She brought in her colleague Dan Diamond to work with her as they investigated (along with their very demanding “day jobs” as Politico/Politico Pro reporters).

As many of us know, HHS wasn’t very forthcoming about Price's travel and public appearances. Instead of telling us the secretary was going somewhere to do such and such, the department posted terse releases after the fact that he had gone somewhere and done such and such. Dan and Rachana, using this information, social media, local news reports and sources, built a databank of his travels. It got a little easier when HHS in July and August began sending out more notices of Price’s trips (much of it opioid “Listening sessions) but still the two reporters wrote that they "had to re-create Price’s schedule from scratch if we were to have an hope of matching his trips to chartered flights."

By about September, we had brought in the projects editor and gotten a bit of advice on the charter flight industry from the transportation editor. We were ready to try to get first-hand confirmation that Price and his entourage were taking costly charter flights but Dan and Rachana still had to figure out which D.C.-area airport he was flying from, and how to get close enough to confirm it.

 “There were several missed opportunities, when we either went to the wrong airport or the right airport at the wrong time,” they wrote. “Then, in September, we received an official notice from HHS that Price would be traveling to the Philadelphia area to meet with people affected by addiction to opioid painkillers. By the morning of September 15 — when Price took a private jet to travel from Washington to Philadelphia, a distance of roughly 125 miles — we had figured out that Price was using the private jet terminal at Dulles International Airport, 28 miles outside of Washington.”

Dan Diamond

Rachana Pradhan

Their confirmation of that trip – really, who flies from Washington to Philadelphia? – cracked open the story. Which was followed by another story. Which was followed by another. When Price, in a bid to save his job, offered to pay his cost of the flights (but not the cost of his staff who accompanied him on the flights) – Dan and Rachana followed up rapid-fire with yet another piece, this one chronicling how often he took government jets (way, way more than his predecessors at a cost of around $500,000). The next day, he resigned.

Dan, Rachana and their colleagues on the health team and at the White House had more to say – not just about his travel but about why in an administration that had survived so much scandal, Price was shown the door.

As this article by Andrew Restuccia, Josh Dawsey and Dan Diamond shows, Price’s failure to shepherd repeal of the Affordable Care Act through Congress did not endear him to President Trump. And apparently Trump didn’t find anything else about Price endearing. There had been a ton of turmoil and turnover at the White House, but with the exception of John Kelly’s move from Homeland Security secretary to White House chief of staff, there had been no change in the cabinet – until Tom Price.