IG Declined Probe Into Pelosi Flights

Posted September 9, 2009 at 6:39pm

The Defense Department’s inspector general earlier this year declined to investigate Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s (D-Calif.) use of military aircraft, concluding that the issue had received so much attention from the public and government officials that there was little the IG could add, according to documents obtained by Roll Call.

The IG looked into the issue in response to a citizen complaint and said the matter was “brought to the attention of senior leadership within the [Defense] department as well as the White House,— but conducted no further investigation.

Since 9/11, the Speaker has been required for security reasons to travel on military aircraft during official business. But Pelosi’s use of military jets has long been a point of contention among conservatives, since the Washington Times reported early in 2007 that the Speaker had requested a larger plane to fly her nonstop to California.

House Sergeant-at-Arms Bill Livingood refuted that story, saying he was the one who had requested the nonstop service for Pelosi, but the issue has lingered.

In March, the watchdog organization Judicial Watch released e-mails obtained under the Freedom of Information Act showing communications between the military and a House staffer about Pelosi’s travel request, including a request from the Speaker’s office that her husband be allowed to join a Congressional delegation to Iraq.

An Air Force retiree named Richard Jackson filed a complaint through the Defense Department Inspector General’s Office in January, arguing that “Pelosi is misusing DOD aircraft for her own convenience,— and he renewed the complaint March 11, the day after Judicial Watch released the e-mails. Jackson said he was told that the hotline lost track of his first complaint.

In April, the hotline director replied to Jackson that “based on a thorough review of the information provided, there does not appear to be a sufficient basis for the DoD Hotline to initiate an inquiry.—

According to the hotline case sheet on Jackson’s request, the IG’s office on March 12 suggested that Jackson’s complaint “can be the catch-all— for complaints about Pelosi’s travel and “letters of a copy cat nature— spawned by the Judicial Watch report.

But a handwritten note on the case sheet dated March 13 said: “This continues to be a well-publicized issue between Speaker Pelosi, the White House & DoD. We are not getting in the middle of this because we cannot affect change.—

The formal closing remark on the case sheet noted: “Review by the Hotline Director determined this issue has been brought to the attention of sr. leadership within the Department as well as the White House. Action by the Hotline is not warrant[ed] nor would it be appropriate.— The case was closed March 19.

Pelosi’s office argues that the IG may have declined to investigate simply because there has never been a credible allegation that the Speaker has misused the military aircraft provided for her travel.

“The availability and size of military aircraft is determined by the Department of Defense,— her office said in a statement. “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 [R] of Illinois.—

Neither Pelosi’s office nor the White House had any information about contacts with the IG regarding the issue.

Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton said the response to Jackson’s complaint indicates that the IG shied away from the issue because it was too politically sensitive.

“They are saying that they don’t have the power to affect change because of the involvement of the politicians,— Fitton said. “I don’t read it as saying it’s going to be taken care of.’—

Congressional use of military aircraft resurfaced as an issue in August after Roll Call reported that the House had approved nearly $200 million for the Air Force to buy three elite Gulfstream jets for ferrying top government officials and Members of Congress — two more planes than the military has requested.

A public outcry ensued and key Members said the extra airplanes will be removed from the final Defense spending bill before it is completed this year.