ABC News’ Rick Klein reports: E-mails obtained by a conservative government watchdog group are reigniting a two-year-old political fight over House Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s use of military aircraft for travel. The e-mails — obtained and released publicly by Judicial Watch — show several instances where Department of Defense officials complain about last-minute Pelosi travel cancellations, with one citing “hidden costs” involved in preparing jets for flights that never took place. In another series of messages, the Pelosi-appointed director of the House’s Office of Interparliamentary Affairs, Kay King, expresses frustration that a particular type of jet won’t be available for members of Congress to use for official trips. “It is my understanding there are NO G5s available for the House during the Memorial Day recess. This is totally unacceptable,” she wrote in one message obtained by Judicial Watch via a Freedom of Information Act Request. “The Speaker will want to know where the planes are . . .” The comment came in reference to planes available for bipartisan trips by congressional delegations — not the speaker’s personal travel. The speaker’s office points out that, after the Sept. 11, 2001 terrorist attacks, the Bush administration put in place a new policy to have the Speaker of the House (who is third in line for the presidency, behind the president and the vice president) travel on a military plane whenever available, even on routine trips to and from his or her congressional district. Pelosi’s predecessor as speaker, Dennis Hastert, R-Ill., also used a military plane for routine travel. The only difference: The House Sergeant-at-Arms determined that Pelosi, D-Calif., would sometimes require a larger aircraft to travel back-and-forth between Washington and her San Francisco congressional district, to ensure non-stop flights. “The availability and size of the military aircraft is determined by the Department of Defense. Typically, when Speaker Pelosi uses military aircraft to travel between her Congressional District and Washington, the military assigns the same 12-seat aircraft used by her predecessor, Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois,” Pelosi’s office said in a written statement. Republicans have been leveling similar charges of aircraft extravagance at the speaker since she took over her post in January 2007. FactCheck.org examined the claims earlier this year, and sided with the speaker’s office. “She does not routinely fly about in a 757-size jet that she demanded from the Air Force. She normally flies on the same type of executive jet as her Republican predecessor,” the group found. “Pelosi has used the Air Force equivalent of a Boeing 757 to fly between Washington, D.C., and her San Francisco district. But she has done so exactly once, when no smaller aircraft was available, according to Air Force spokesman Eric Sharman.” Nonetheless, the e-mails are likely to give fresh ammunition to Republicans who have sought to paint a portrait of Pelosi and her Democratic allies as out-of-touch. Said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton: “Taken together, these documents show that Speaker Pelosi treats the Air Force like her personal airline.”
UPDATE: Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell was asked about the story at today’s briefing: “I really have nothing for you on it. . . . I mean, we provide air travel to a number of people. We provide aircraft for a number of government officials. That’s how we’ve done things for years; it’s how we continue to do things. I know of no one rendering a judgment on whether there is excessive use of those aircraft.”
Asked whether lawmakers should be more sensitive about arranging these flights given the budget crunch, Morrell said, “I have no reason to assume that they aren’t very conscientious about it and they don’t factor all those things into their decision-making.”
ABC News’ Luis Martinez contributed to this report.