Watchdog Group Releases Documents on Senators’ Requests for Jets

Posted August 11, 2009 at 2:08pm

The government watchdog Judicial Watch released documents Tuesday detailing Senate requests for military aircraft both for international Congressional delegations as well as domestic travel.According to a statement, Judicial Watch obtained the documents, which include internal Defense Department e-mails and travel documents, through a Freedom of Information Act request. The documents, which discuss trips made between 2006 and 2009, include Defense e-mails discussing trips led by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) and Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.), as well as two 2005 trips organized by then-Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.). It does not appear that the documents contain e-mail communications from Senate offices.But the documents do include letters in which the Senate requests specific aircraft, in particular the Boeing C-32, which is the military’s version of a commercial 757 aircraft. “This letter is to request a C-32 military aircraft be assigned to transport the Senate Delegation,— an April 2008 letter from Reid to Defense Secretary Robert Gates states. “It would also be appreciated if you will assign the Chief of the U.S. Army Senate Liaison Office, two non-commissioned officers, and a military physician to assist the delegation.—The letter, concerning a CODEL to Afghanistan, Kyrgyzstan and Kazakhstan, echoes communications about a December 2006 trip to South America and a November 2007 trip to Mexico, Latin America and South America. The documents also included discussion over whether to assign a McConnell-led delegation a C-40 aircraft, the military’s version of a commercial 737, or a C-9, the military version of a DC-9, for travel to Egypt, Afghanistan and Iraq earlier this year. The delegation was assigned the smaller of the two aircraft, a C-9, according to the e-mail exchanges included in the documents given to Judicial Watch.“Before I deliver this news to Sen McConnell’s office, please go back and ask for a C-40,— states one March 2009 e-mail, in which the recipient and author have been redacted. “Tell [the 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.’—The release comes on the heels of an announcement Monday by Rep. John Murtha (D-Pa.), chairman of the House Appropriations Subcommittee on Defense, that he is willing to eliminate tens of millions of dollars for new passenger jets from the 2010 Defense spending bill even though the spending has already been approved by the House.Roll Call reported last week that the House had approved a Defense spending bill with $200 million for three Gulfstream executive jets for the Air Force’s VIP travel operation, which transports top government officials, including Members of Congress. The Air Force had only requested one of those planes; the Appropriations Committee added two more and specified they would be stationed at Andrews Air Force Base.The conservative watchdog group, which had previously released documents detailing Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) requests for military aircraft, has criticized House and Senate lawmakers’ use of military aircraft for Congressional travel.“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,— Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said in a statement.