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Treasury watchdog reviewing Mnuchin's solar eclipse trip

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A federal watchdog said on Friday it was reviewing the circumstances surrounding U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin’s controversial flight last month to Kentucky, where he spoke to business leaders and viewed the solar eclipse.

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“Responding to inquiries received from members of the public, we are reviewing the circumstances of the Secretary’s August 21 flight to Louisville and Ft. Knox to determine whether all applicable travel, ethics, and appropriation laws and policies were observed,” Rich Delmar, counsel to the Treasury’s Office of Inspector General, said in a statement.

Mnuchin, a former hedge fund manager, and his wife, actress Louise Linton, traveled on a U.S. government plane to Kentucky where they viewed the Aug. 21 solar eclipse with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and others.

Linton posted a photo of herself on social media getting off the plane and listing the designer brands she was wearing, triggering criticism over the display of wealth and privilege.

The Washington Post, which first reported the review, said Democratic Senator Ron Wyden last week requested a “detailed explanation” of the travel and justification for use of the government aircraft.

An independent watchdog group, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, also had sought records of the trip, saying it seemed to have been planned to enable Mnuchin to be at a site that had views of the total eclipse. The eclipse visible in Washington only obscured about 80 percent of the sun.

The Post said Treasury secretaries and other Cabinet members not involved in national security have traditionally flown on government aircraft on rare occasions, usually taking commercial flights for domestic travel.

Treasury officials have said the trip was official government travel, with Mnuchin speaking to Louisville business leaders before visiting Fort Knox, where a large portion of the U.S. gold reserves are held.

Delmar said the Office of Inspector General was looking into various issues raised by the flight.

“When our review is complete, we will advise the appropriate officials, in accordance with the Inspector General Act and established procedures,” he said in the statement.

Reporting by David Alexander; Editing by Susan Heavey and Paul Simao