AUGUST 11, 2009
Judicial Watch, the public interest group that investigates and prosecutes government corruption, announced today that it has obtained documents from the Department of Defense (DOD) and the United States Air Force (USAF) related to repeated requests for military aircraft made by members of the U.S. Senate. Judicial Watch recently obtained the documents through the Freedom of Information Act as part of its continuing investigation of waste and abuse related to congressional military travel.
Among the highlights from the documents:
- A January 2, 2009 internal DOD email related to a military travel request from Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid’s Office. A DOD official responding to the request wrote: "…I was under the impression that they really only had small a/c [aircraft]. Regardless, with Sen Reid being the lead, they would definitely want a vip configured bird. Right now approval is only for one a/c. It’s amazing how fast these things grow."
- A March 12, 2009 internal DOD email related to a military travel request involving a seven-country tour from Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell. The DOD official responding to the request wrote: "As I expected, the McConnell group wants their C-40 not a C-9…This is the only group that would not shift their dates to be in one half of the month and thus are taking up an asset that could have been used twice but now is being used once. That drove the aircraft decision…it was better to have a C-9 used once than a C-40 (greater range and passenger capability)…The group is also the only group with a large aircraft who only has four members (McConnell, Chambliss, Barasso, Risch + spouses) all others have 5, 6, 7, or 10 members…"
- A date-redacted internal DOD email related to the McConnell request. The DOD official responding to the request wrote: "Tell OSD (Office of the Secretary of Defense) that Sen McConnell and Secretary Gates have already discussed this trip at some length. What I need to have ready for the McConnell office is ‘why’ the Republican leader of the Senate has been assigned this type of aircraft. They will view this type of aircraft assignment as not appropriate for such a high-level delegation. I understand the requirements for safe and efficient DOD provided transportation, but they will not. I at least want to be able to tell the McConnell office, ‘we asked.’"
- Request on behalf of at least one congressional spouse ("for protocol purposes"), including to war zones such as Afghanistan. The emails suggest that this issue raised security concerns.
- Military assets were used to transport dozens of Senators, their spouses, and others to the funerals of retired Senators Claiborne Pell and Jesse Helms.
In March 2009, Judicial Watch uncovered documents detailing House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s multiple requests for military air travel. The documents included internal DOD email correspondence detailing attempts by DOD staff to accommodate Pelosi’s numerous requests for military escorts and military aircraft as well as the speaker’s last minute cancellations and changes.
This latest document release to Judicial Watch comes on the heels of a report in Roll Call noting the fact that in July, "…the House approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress." The Air Force had only requested one Gulfstream jet as part of its "ongoing upgrade of its passenger service."
"The military has more important things to do than having to cater to the travel whims of Congress. These new documents show that Congressional military travel wastes taxpayer dollars," said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. "Members of Congress should stop treating the United States Air Force as their own personal airline."
- Air Force Documents 1
- Air Force Documents 2
- Air Force Documents 3
- Air Force Documents 4
- Air Force Documents 5
- Air Force Documents 6
- Air Force Documents 7 – not provided (as unresponsive)
- Air Force Documents 8 – not provided (as unresponsive)
- Air Force Documents 9
- Department of Defense Documents on Senator Frist
- Department of Defense Documents on Senator McConnell
- Department of Defense Documents on Senator Reid
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