VIP Program Pulls Air Marshals Off High-Risk Flight to Pad Maxine Waters’ Four-Man Security Detail
Federal Air Marshals (FAM) were yanked from a high-risk flight so Congresswoman Maxine Waters could have extra security during a recent trip to Minnesota, though she was already covered by a four-man detail consisting of two Capitol Police officers and two Secret Service agents, according to multiple law enforcement sources interviewed by Judicial Watch. The veteran FAM sources say the California Democrat had two air marshals reassigned to a plane that would otherwise not qualify because it was not considered high-risk. The transfer forced the high-risk flight to complete its trip without the two air marshals originally assigned to it, said Sonya Hightower-LaBosco, a retired FAM who serves as executive director of the Air Marshal National Council. The union represents thousands of air marshals nationwide. “Two air marshals were pulled off a high-risk flight so Maxine Waters’ aircraft could have six armed agents,” Hightower-LaBosco said, adding that two additional armed agents met the congresswoman on the ground.
FAMs are federal law enforcement officers whose primary function is to protect commercial passenger flights by deterring and countering the risk of terrorist activity, aircraft piracy and other crimes to protect the nation’s transportation infrastructure. However, a special “VIP” program launched about a year ago allows members of Congress to get extra protection even though they often already travel with plenty of security on flights that do not meet the threat criteria, usually determined by the FBI, for air marshals. The program “has left a glaring hole in America’s aviation security,” according to a whistleblower complaint filed this year by the Air Marshal National Council with the Department of Homeland Security (DHS) Inspector General. “Recently, the Federal Air Marshal service has assigned a full-time position at the Capitol in Washington D.C. to take requests from Congressional members for Federal Air Marshal coverage of flights these Congressional members are on,” the document, which is also addressed to DHS Secretary Alejandro Mayorkas, states. “The FAMS are now taking agents off of regularly scheduled high risk flights to put them on flights with members of Congress, that in most cases have their own armed federal security details onboard already. It has become akin to a type of extremely expensive concierge service for Congressional members.” The document cites the recent Waters request as an example, confirming what other sources told Judicial Watch, that “FAMS were pulled off of a scheduled high-risk flight to cover” the congresswoman’s plane.
Waters received the extra security while traveling to Minnesota in mid-April to support protestors in Brooklyn Center, a Minneapolis suburb, after police shot and killed a black man with an open warrant related to an aggravated armed robbery. The Derek Chauvin trial was wrapping up around 10 miles away and the 82-year-old lawmaker incited the crowd, encouraging protestors to “get more confrontational” if the former Minneapolis cop was not convicted of murder for George Floyd’s death. “We gotta stay on the street, we’ve got to get more active, we’ve got to get more confrontational, we’ve got to make sure that they know that we mean business,” Waters said ahead of closing arguments in Chauvin’s trial. The former officer was convicted and the judge presiding over the trial called the congresswoman’s comments “abhorrent.” Last month Judicial Watch filed a complaint with the chairman of the House Office of Congressional Ethics against Waters for violating House ethics rules by encouraging violence and attempting to intimidate the jury in the Chauvin trial.
Judicial Watch is investigating Waters’ special security arrangement and has filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) request with DHS for documents associated with the April 17 Delta Airlines flight from Washington D.C.’s Dulles International Airport to Minneapolis–Saint Paul International Airport. In the public-record request Judicial Watch writes that Waters raised the potential for violence, directed lawlessness, and may have interfered with a co-equal branch of government. Furthermore, Judicial Watch points out that it is still not known what authorized official government business the congresswoman, who represents Los Angeles in the House, was attending in Minnesota and the appearance is her travel was for personal gain. “How do you go out and promote defunding the police then call for more police protection,” said Hightower-LaBosco, a former police officer who served 12 years as an air marshal. Hightower-Bosco says the estimated cost of Waters’ security detail is about $10,000 for each leg.
Five days after this story was published the U.S. Capitol Police contacted Judicial Watch denying that it had any officers on Waters’ plane. Judicial Watch stands by its reporting and multiple government sources, including federal law enforcement officials, confirm the story is accurate.