Pelosi Seeks Upgrade for Government-Provided Plane

Rewarding Supporters?

Republican leaders have also stated -- with no tangible evidence -- that Pelosi wants to use the plane to reward financial contributors.

"She was offered the same aircraft that the previous speaker had," Putnam said yesterday. "It sat 12 people, and she refused it, didn't think it was big enough for all of her friends and supporters. In fact, she specifically requested that supporters be able to travel."

Said Blunt, "If you can take your supporters in the air on a government plane, that is a pretty big perk to be able to offer, I would think, whether you are the speaker or anybody else."

Putnam said that this was hypocritical, since "this just after we passed a ban on flying on corporate aircraft and a ban on flying with lobbyists, and yet she is requesting that supporters/lobbyists be allowed to fly on a military aircraft that the taxpayers are picking up the tab for," Putnam said. He called for Pelosi to provide public manifests of the itineraries and costs of the flight, which one congressional source said might cost as much as $22,000 an hour to operate, and to provide some way for the public to make sure political contributors weren't receiving free trips at taxpayers' expense.

Pelosi's office denied that she wanted anyone to be able to travel on the plane other than those Hastert was able to bring along -- security, staff, family and members of Congress going to the same airport.

"It has nothing to do with family and friends and everything to do with security," Pelosi said Wednesday. The sergeant at arms, she said, thinks "there is a need for this security. They have asked for it to continue. It is up to the Air Force and administration to do that."

Democrats suspected Bush administration operatives of stoking the flames of what Democrats deem a nonstory. The White House today was asked if it's "a good idea" for Pelosi to "have a large government military jet available to her to go back and forth to California?"

"After Sept. 11, the Department of Defense -- with the consent of the White House -- agreed that the speaker of the House should have military transport," replied White House spokesman Tony Snow. "And so what is going on is that the Department of Defense is going through its rules and regulations and having conversations with the speaker about it. So Speaker Hastert had access to military aircraft and Speaker Pelosi will, too."

The White House deferred all questions about the size of the plane to the Pentagon.

Air Force spokeswoman Lt. Col Cathy Reardon tells ABC News that when Hastert used the plane, "it was himself, and he usually had one to three staff members and two security staff -- members of the Capitol police force. His wife would sometimes fly, and he reimbursed the government for everyone," paying the government for the cost of a commercial flight to the same place. Hastert's office did not return a call for comment.

Reardon recalls that "shuttle service" began when as a result of 9/11 all commercial airports were closed. "It was a time of great uncertainty, so right after 9/11, Speaker Hastert requested from the Department of Defense airlift support because of airport closures and his position" in presidential succession.

"In 2003, the increased security environment and his vulnerability in a commercial airport led to agreements with DOD for him to use 89th Airlift Wing assets," Reardon says.

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