Pelosi Travel Abuse? Case Not Proved

Did a watchdog group unfairly criticize House speaker for military jet travel?

March 11, 2009, 12:00 PM

March 11, 2009— -- The treasure trove of documents obtained by Judicial Watch from the Department of Defense regarding Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi's use of military aircraft doesn't seem to prove the organization's allegation that Pelosi has made "unprecedented demands" for the flights.

In fact, it appears that Pelosi uses military aircraft less often than her predecessor, former Speaker of the House Dennis Hastert.

The documents cover the period from January 2007 to November 2008 and show that Pelosi made the equivalent of 20 round-trips between Washington (Andrews Air Force Base) and San Francisco. That's an average of less than one round-trip per month. In contrast, former Speaker Hastert traveled home to his Illinois district virtually every weekend and, his former aides tell ABC News, he would almost always travel on military aircraft. Like Hastert, Pelosi also occasionally leads Congressional delegations on foreign trips (the documents show six foreign trips: one to Asia, three to the Middle East and two to Europe).

The documents obtained by Judicial Watch also disprove another frequently repeated rumor about Pelosi's travel: that she regularly flies home to San Francisco in an Air Force C-40, the military equivalent of a Boeing 737. According to the documents, Pelosi did not make any domestic trips on a C-40 during the 23-month period from January 2007 to November 2008. Her trips to San Francisco have all been on smaller executive aircraft, usually an Air Force C-20 (the equivalent of a Gulfstream G-3) or a more plush C-37 (a Gulfstream G-5).

The Judicial Watch release cites e-mails from the military complaining that Pelosi was frequently reserving military aircraft and then canceling, causing the Air Force to incur costs as crews prepped planes than never went anywhere. These e-mails, however, are from early in her tenure as speaker.

The only other time the issue of cancelled flights comes up is when Pelosi was forced to cancel flights to California in October 2008, when the House was in the midst of intense debate over the $700 billion Emergency Economic Stabilization Act. The Defense Department official seems to fully understand the situation, writing, "I do not see malice or a lack of urgency on their parts given the weekend Hill proceedings. Obviously we all need to keep leaning forward. It's the right thing to do."

The Judicial Watch release also cites an e-mail from a Pelosi staffer complaining about the lack of available C-5 aircraft for Congress's 2007 Memorial Day recess, but this has nothing to do with Pelosi's travel. Instead, the staffer was trying to arrange travel for eight Congressional delegations (all such travel is arranged through Pelosi's office).

One can question whether the military should fly the speaker of the House around, but the practice dates back to the aftermath of the Sept. 11 attacks. The level of security for the speaker is higher than for other congressional leaders because she is second in the line of succession to the presidency, behind only the vice president who also, of course, flies in military aircraft.

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