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Tom Price says he'll pay back private plane travel

Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price on Thursday said he will pay the federal government back for his private charter plane flights, and take "no more" charter planes while serving as secretary.

Price pledged to pay back the cost of his "seat" in an HHS statement, and an HHS spokesperson told CBS News Price's check to the U.S. Treasury amounts to $51,887.31. An HHS spokesperson later clarified Price will be paying for "his share of the travel," not necessarily the whole plane. That's far below the $400,000 or more Politico, which first reported the story, claims Price has racked up in private flights. Then again, HHS differs with Politico on how many private charter flights Price has taken — Politico claims there were at least 24 flights in recent months, while Price claims there were only 11. 

The pledge comes as Price is under fire -- even from President Trump -- for taking government-funded private flights for routine government travel. Price's travel is under investigation by the HHS inspector general, and Mr. Trump on Wednesday said he is "not happy" with Price and didn't rule out firing him. Senate Judiciary Committee chairman Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, sent a letter to Mr. Trump on Thursday asking for his explanation on the travel of Price and other cabinet members. Treasury Secretary Steve Mnuchin is also under scrutiny from the Treasury Department's inspector general for his travel on the government dime, and Environmental Protection Agency head Scott Pruitt took non-commercial flights worth more than $58,000, as has CBS News reported.

HHS issued a statement from Price Thursday, in which Price said he would take no more private charter flights while secretary, "no exceptions," and write a personal check to the U.S. Treasury for the expenses of his travel on private charter planes. 

"All of my political career I've fought for the taxpayers. It is clear to me that in this case, I was not sensitive enough to my concern for the taxpayer," Price said in the statement. "I know as well as anyone that the American people want to know that their hard-earned dollars are being spent wisely by government officials."

House investigates Trump Cabinet's pricey private flights

When he was in Congress before joining the administration, Price preached fiscal conservatism, and harped on then-Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi for taking private jets. The travel story also comes as his agency's programs and budget are getting cut. 

The inspector general's investigation is still ongoing, and Price said he will cooperate with it fully. On Saturday, Price admitted to Fox News the "optics" of his travel "don't look good." 

"The optics in some of this don't look good, and that's why we again have taken this criticism to heart," Price told the network. 

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