JANUARY 14, 2016
(Washington, DC) – Judicial Watch announced today that it filed a Freedom of Information (FOIA) lawsuit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia seeking records concerning travel costs for members of Congress. The lawsuit includes records about official congressional delegation travel (CODEL), which often use Air Force luxury jets and support personnel, authorized by Republican leaders in the House and the Senate. (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Defense (No 1:15-cv-02236))
The lawsuit was filed after the U.S. Air Force – a component of the Department of Defense – ignored an August 14, 2015, request for congressional travel records, including:
- All records regarding mission taskings of flights escorting members of Congress
- All records concerning transportation costs for transporting members of Congress
- All passenger manifests (DD-2131) for transporting members of Congress
- All weekly travel reports for members of Congress
Former Speaker John Boehner reportedly retaliated against Republican members opposed to some of his policies by refusing approval for them to travel on CODELs. Rep. Louie Gohmert (R-TX) and Rep. Steve King (R-IA) are two reported victims of this abuse.
Beginning in 2009, after the media failed to follow up on concerns raised about Nancy Pelosi’s use of luxury Air Force jets to travel between her congressional district and DC, Judicial Watch’s Freedom of Information act requests exposed her abuse of this travel perk. Judicial Watch uncovered that Pelosi’s military travel cost the United States Air Force $2,100,744.59 over one two-year period — $101,429.14 of which was for in-flight expenses, including food and alcohol.
Judicial Watch also uncovered internal Defense emails detailing attempts by Defense Department staff to accommodate Pelosi’s numerous requests for military escorts and military aircraft, as well as Pelosi’s last minute cancellations and changes.
Other documents show the Pentagon sent “heads up” emails to members of Congress providing them with planned responses to FOIA requests about their travel filed by Judicial Watch, The Wall Street Journal, Congressional Quarterly, and Roll Call, among other organizations.
Judicial Watch’s work exposing Pelosi’s travel abuses resulted in her successor John Boehner declining to use Air Force luxury jets to travel to his Ohio congressional district. Last week, a spokesperson for new House Speaker Paul Ryan (R-WI) confirmed with Judicial Watch that he has also declined to use Air Force jets to travel between his congressional district and Washington, DC.
In March 2010, Judicial Watch also pressured the House and the Senate Ethics Committees after the Wall Street Journal reported that members did not account for and improperly pocketed cash travel “per diem” advances. In December 2010, the House Ethics Committee refused to take action despite admitted violations of the rules regarding the use of taxpayer funds by members. And in June 2011, over a year after Judicial Watch’s complaint, the Senate Ethics Committee responded by merely reminding all members and staff to follow all of the rules regarding travel “per diems,” especially the rule requiring that unused cash be returned to taxpayers.
“Congress, under both Republicans and Democrats, has a long record of abusing taxpayers and the military with wasteful ‘official’ travel,” said President Tom Fitton. “Judicial Watch is again in federal court because once again the Pentagon, especially under Barack Obama, is in cover-up mode and protecting Congress by hiding records about junkets from the American taxpayer. Taxpayers will fairly conclude that Congress hasn’t reined in Obama’s abusive travel practices because Congress wants continued access to the same types of luxury jets – at taxpayers’ expense – that Obama and other top government officials use.”
Judicial Watch is investigating and litigated for information on the cost of Barack Obama and his presidential travels. The known total expense to the American taxpayers thus far for all Obama travel is now $70,880,035.78.