MAY 19, 2017
Obama Final Travel Tally: Nearly $100 Million
JW Sues for FBI Records –and Payments – Relating to ‘Trump Dossier’
Government Yanks Report Blasting DHS for Catching Less than 1% of Visa Overstays
We Probe Obama White House Influence Over FCC Attempt to Regulate Internet
There may be no better way to keep on eye on our leaders’ penchant for pretending to royalty than to tally the cost of their travel and accommodations. Our nation has granted its presidents exquisite transport because we need for our leaders to be efficient and safe. However, we don’t need for them to luxuriate on our tax dollars.
As you know, we have carefully tracked the travel costs President Obama incurred, and we have an update on that this week. We have obtained records from the Secret Service and the Air Force in response to Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests that show Obama family travel cost taxpayers a grand total of $99,714,527.82.
The newly obtained Obama White House era travel records show:
- The March 2014 trip to Key Largo during Spring Break – where the First Family stayed at the exclusive Ocean Reef Club – cost the Secret Service $247,827.50: $182,120.33 for hotels and $65,707.17 in travel expenses. The total cost of that trip, with previously released $885,683 in flight costs from the Air Force, is $1,133,510.50.
- Other documents show that Michelle Obama’s February 2015 Aspen vacation cost the Secret Service a total of $64,807.41: $47,109.28 for hotels, $3,559.43 in rental cars and $14,138.70 in other travel expenses. The total cost of the trip, with $57,068.80 in flight costs from previously released Air Force records, is $121,876.21.
- Judicial Watch released documents from the Air Force concerning the 2016-2017 Obama family Christmas trip to Honolulu showing 17.9 hours flying at $142,380 per hour, bringing the total flight cost to $2,548,602.
We have also filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Homeland Security for Secret Service records associated with President Obama’s movements, schedule and activities since his departure from the White House. The lawsuit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Dept. of Homeland Security (No. 1:17-cv-00928)).
The suit was filed after the Secret Service failed to respond to a March 24, 2017, FOIA request seeking:
All records of former President Barack Obama’s movements, schedule, activities, and/or meeting for January 21, 2017 through March 21, 2017. Such records include, but are not limited to, U.S. Secret Service schedules and activity reports.
Although Obama is no longer in office, he continues to receive Secret Service protection at taxpayer expense. In January, the Obama family traveled to Palm Springs, CA. The former president also spent a few weeks in French Polynesia. And all the while, taxpayers paid the protection tab.
For eight long years, the Obamas spent our tax dollars for a lavish jet-setting lifestyle. Many in the media only focus on President Trump’s travel, but Barack Obama continues to cost taxpayers with his luxury travel, and we aim to document it.
Of course, we are also actively tracking the travel expenses of President Trump. On May 4, we released records from the Department of the Air Force in response to FOIA requests that show President Trump’s flights to Mar-a-Lago for two weekends (in February and March) cost $1,281,420.00. And, as I told the Washington Post, since he is spending taxpayer dollars, Trump may want to consider using the presidential retreat of Camp David, a short helicopter ride from the White House, for his weekend getaways.
A plethora of slippery “facts” are being bundled into reportedly serious allegations against President Donald Trump here in Washington. To cut through this miasma of fake news, we are doing what we do best: using the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) to get to the truth.
As an example, we have filed a FOIA lawsuit against the U.S. Department of Justice for records of communications and payments between the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) and former British intelligence officer Christopher Steele and his private firm Orbis Business Intelligence. And that includes “actual payments of any funds to Mr. Steele.” (Judicial Watch v. U.S. Department of Justice (No. 1:17-cv-00916)).
The suit was filed after the Department of Justice failed to respond to a March 8, 2017, FOIA request seeking:
- All records of communications between any official, employee, or representative of the FBI and Mr. Christopher Steele, a former British intelligence officer and the owner of the private firm Orbis Business Intelligence.
- All records related to the proposed, planned, or actual payment of any funds to Mr. Steele and/or Orbis Business Intelligence.
- All records produced in preparation for, during, or pursuant to any meetings or telephonic conversations between any official, employee, or representative of the Federal Bureau of Investigation and Mr. Christopher Steele and/or any employee or representative of Orbis Business Intelligence.
The Trump dossier was purported to contain “embarrassing material” which could be used to blackmail Trump. The online tabloid BuzzFeed published the 35-page document following a January 10, 2017, report by CNN stating President Obama was presented classified documents alleging Russian Intelligence had “compromising personal and financial information” about Trump.
CNN and many other news organizations refused to publish the dossier because they had not “independently corroborated the specific allegations,” and former Director of National Intelligence James Clapper reportedly said “we couldn’t corroborate the sourcing, particularly the second and third order sources.” Yet, according to Fox News, former FBI Director James Comey insisted that the dossier be included in January’s intelligence report on alleged Russian meddling in the U.S. election.
This so-called Trump dossier is at the center of the anti-Trump Russian collusion conspiracy theory. It is disconcerting that the Obama FBI and Justice Departments trafficked this document and evidently used it to justify unprecedented surveillance of the Trump team. Our new lawsuit seeks to expose the truth about this dossier – including whether the FBI actually paid for the salacious material. Maybe with new leadership at the FBI, we’ll finally get some answers.
Our course, I know better than to hold my breath.
The preamble to our Constitution states that the document’s purpose, among others, is “to provide for the common defense. …” This long after 9/11 you’d think our government might have learned a few things about defending us. Apparently not, as our Corruption Chronicles blog points out.
Fifteen years after Islamic terrorists exploited the U.S. government’s inept method of tracking visa overstays, the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) still uses an antiquated system that doesn’t have the capability to get the job done. This allows foreign individuals, who may “pose severe national security risks” to remain in the country, according to a federal audit that for unknown reasons was yanked from the public domain. A 45-page report was issued this month by the DHS Inspector General, and Judicial Watch reviewed it thoroughly before the watchdog mysteriously pulled it from its website. Judicial Watch has repeatedly reached out to the DHS IG’s office but has received no response. Here’s the link that went bad as also noted by a few other outlets.
To be sure, the findings are an embarrassment to the government because visa overstays have been a major national security issue for well over a decade. Several of the 9/11 hijackers remained in the U.S. after their visas expired to plan and carry out the worst terrorist attack on American soil.
A few years after the 2001 attacks, Congress launched a system that was supposed to take care of the problem by tracking the entry and exit of foreign nationals with electronically scanned fingerprints and photographs. But five years and $1 billion later, the system, U.S. Visitor and Immigration Status Indicator Technology (US VISIT), still had serious flaws.
A few years later the investigative arm of Congress, the Government Accountability Office (GAO), published a report confirming that nearly half of the nation’s illegal aliens entered the U.S. legally and overstayed their visas undetected. In the years that followed, the government did little to improve what has developed into a dire national security disaster. In 2011, yet another federal audit confirmed that the U.S. had lost track of millions who overstayed their visas, and two years later the crisis intensified when DHS lost track of 266 dangerous foreigners with expired visas. The government determined that they “could pose a national security or public safety concerns,” according to the director of Homeland Security and Justice at the GAO.
Just last year Judicial Watch obtained DHS figures showing that more than half a million foreigners with expired visas—like the 9/11 jihadists—remained in the country, thousands of them from terrorist nations like Pakistan, Iraq, Yemen, Libya and Syria. More than 45,000 Mexicans overstayed their visa, according to the DHS records, and thousands more from El Salvador, Ecuador, Venezuela and China. The visas are granted for “business or pleasure” and the foreigners come via sea or air port of entry. For nearly a decade a number of federal audits have offered the alarming figures associated with visa overstays, including one released back in 2011 that estimates half of the nation’s illegal immigrants entered legally with visas.
This month’s DHS IG report exposes the disturbing reality that the U.S. government has done nothing to prevent another terrorist attack by dangerous elements that remain in the country with an expired visa. Many fall through the cracks because Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE), the DHS agency responsible for the task, must piece together information from dozens of systems and databases that aren’t reliable.
The problem is so out of control that ICE must depend on often sketchy data provided by third parties such as commercial carrier passenger lists that often provide false visitor departure and arrival information. “Such false departure information resulted in [Enforcement and Removal Operations] officers closing visa overstay investigations of dangerous individuals, such as suspected criminals, who were actually still in the United States and could pose a threat to national security,” according to the DHS IG report. “For example, [a deportation] officer stated that a suspect under investigation was listed as having left the country, but had given his ticket to a family member and was still residing in the United States.”
Here are the overall figures that illustrate how bad the problem is; of more than half a million visa overstays identified by the DHS watchdog, a mere 3,402 were caught by federal authorities. It gets better. The various unreliable databases that ICE uses also provided inaccurate information on the 0.4% that got busted, according to the report. “In some cases, the individuals arrested had been reported in DHS systems as having already left the United States,” the report states. “Because this information was not recorded, ICE personnel were unable to provide an exact number when asked during our audit.”
In 2015, the U.S. issued nearly 11 million visas and, though only a small percentage overstay, they pose serious national security risks, the watchdog found. As an example, the report mentions the 9/11 hijackers who overstayed their visa. “This prompted the 9/11 Commission to call for the government to ensure that all visitors to the United States are tracked on entry and exit,” DHS investigators remind. Instead, there is a backlog of 1.2 million expired visa cases, the report says.
I refuse to believe that the problem of our common defense is too large or complicated for thoughtful people to manage. That, however, as seems obvious, does not describe our federal bureaucrats. So instead of doing their job they attempt to cover up their incompetence.
We will not rest in our efforts to uncover the full extent of the Obama administration’s nefarious attempts to impose leftist controls over every facet of American society.
We are particularly interested in its intrusion into the Internet, where the free flow of information was always a threat to Obama’s insistence upon secrecy. And so we have filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) seeking records of the Obama White House’s influence in the FCC’s decision to reclassify broadband Internet as a public utility – so that it could impose its restrictive net neutrality regulatory rules (Judicial Watch v. Federal Communications Commission (No. 1:17-cv-00933).
The suit was filed in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia after the FCC failed to respond to two FOIA requests.
On March 30, 2017, we requested:
- All records or communications discussing or analyzing the desirability of a “two-sided market” for broadband Internet services from an economics or public policy standpoint.
- The time frame of this request was identified as March 28, 2015, through March 30, 2017.
On April 4, 2017, we requested:
- All emails between any FCC Commissioner, manager, or employee and Tom Power [formerly U.S. Deputy Chief Technology Officer for Telecommunications in the Obama White House Office of Science and Technology Office (until December 2014) and currently Senior Vice President & General Counsel for the U.S. wireless communications industry group CTIA].
- All emails between any FCC Commissioner, manager, or employee and R. David Edelman [former Special Assistant to President Obama for Economic and Technology Policy].
- The time frame of this request was identified as April 15, 2014, through January 20, 2017.
The time frame for which Judicial Watch seeks the FCC-White House correspondence follows the aftermath of a January 2014 federal appeals court ruling that threw out FCC rules adopted in December 2010 attempting to regulate the Internet by imposing the so-called “net neutrality” under the agency’s Open Internet Order. The court, at the time, said the FCC could not impose its rules because the FCC had previously decided not to classify broadband Internet as a “telecom service” – a statutory classification designed for the old AT&T telephone monopoly.
The ruling sent the question of Internet regulation back to the FCC. And, in February 2015, the Obama appointee-controlled agency redefined broadband Internet as falling under the 1930’s public utility telephone statutes so that it could impose its restrictive net neutrality regulatory rules. This week the Republican-led FCC is voting to begin a proceeding to repeal those regulations.
The Wall Street Journal reported on a “secretive” Obama White House effort to sway FCC decision-making on the issue.
Prior to the appeals court ruling, Judicial Watch, on June 2, 2011, released documents obtained from the FCC indicating that agency officials had colluded with the leftist Free Press organization in its attempt to formulate and push through its net neutrality regulations. We obtained the documents pursuant to a December 27, 2010, FOIA request.
Those documents revealed that Free Press reached out to the FCC to invite then-FCC Commissioner Michael Copps to write an op-ed strongly in favor of so-called “net neutrality” for the Albuquerque Journal in advance of a November 16, 2010, FCC hearing on Internet Access. Free Press also helped coordinate a speaker’s list for FCC “Internet workshops” — which was a “Who’s Who” of liberal activists working to have the FCC control the Internet.
During a subsequent 2011 congressional investigation, which was prompted by Judicial Watch’s revelations, Republican members of the House Energy and Commerce Committee wrote to then-FCC Chairman Genachowski:
“These allegations suggest the FCC’s network neutrality proceeding was designed to fulfill a presidential campaign slogan, when it should have been based on an analysis of statutory authority, an economic analysis of the Internet service market, and an examination of the record. If true, it seems the FCC failed to develop an independent conclusion derived from a balanced fact-based record, which is incompatible with proper rule-making.”
The FCC should follow the FOIA law and release records that could show that the Obama White House led the FCC power grab for the Internet. As with Obamacare, the FCC regulation of the Internet seems to be another corrupt effort by the Obama administration to federalize and control what should remain a free market.
Until next week …