Sunday, August 28, 2011

JW Sues to Find out How Much Taxpayers Spent on Michelle Obama’s Family Trip to Africa

In June, while members of Congress and the Obama White House were debating how to save the country from the debt ceiling crisis, First Lady Michelle Obama decided to take a nice little family vacation to South Africa and Botswana. Of course, the Obama administration line was that this trip was all business. But given the fact that Michelle Obama’s family members were along for the ride, visiting tourist sites around the two countries…well, forgive me for being suspicious.
And how much did all of this cost? We don’t know.
That’s why this week Judicial Watch filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the United States Air Force to obtain records related to the trip (which took place June 21-27, 2011). Judicial Watch is seeking the documents to determine details about the trip, and in particular, a breakdown of the costs to taxpayers.
Specifically we’re after the following information through our FOIA request (filed on June 28, 2011):
  • Any and all records concerning mission taskings of First Lady Michelle Obama’s June 21-27, 2011 trip to South Africa and Botswana.
  • Any and all records concerning transportation costs for Mrs. Obama’s June 21-27, 2011 trip to South Africa and Botswana.
  • Any and all passenger manifests (DD-2131) for Mrs. Obama’s June 21-27, 2011 trip to South Africa and Botswana.
The Air Force acknowledged receiving our request on July 6, 2011. A response to the request was due within 20 working days, or by August 3, 2011. However, as of August 19, 2011, the date of the complaint, the Air Force has failed to produce the records requested or respond with a date that they will be forthcoming.
Michelle Obama claimed the reason for the trip was to encourage young people living in South Africa and Botswana to get involved in national affairs. However, accompanied by her daughters Malia and Sasha; her mother, Marian Robinson; and her niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson, the trip also included such tourist events as visits to historical landmarks and museums, as well as a visit with Nelson Mandela, described by Mrs. Obama as “surreal.” The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve before the group returned to Washington on June 27.
In the face of a ballooning federal debt and a sinking economy, our question is simple but important: How much did the trip cost?
An analysis by White House Dossier (the blog of White House reporter Keith Koffer, who writes for CongressDaily, National Journal, Roll Call and Politico), the cost to taxpayers for the C-32, the specially configured military version of the Boeing 757 that transported the Obama group back and forth to Africa, cost $430,000 alone. This cost is based on an estimated charge of $12,723 an hour, which is what the Department of Defense charges other federal agencies for use of the aircraft.
If a military cargo plane was included – which typically accompanies a First Lady – the cost of transportation could have escalated by another $200,000, which brings the total to $600,000.
Overall, White House Dossier estimates the total cost could be as high as $800,000, but notes that certain costs, such as Secret Service protection, the care and feeding of staff people, and pre-trip advance work done by administration officials in Africa, cannot be determined without examining records.
That’s why we filed our lawsuit.
On the surface, the trip seems to have been totally unnecessary and was as much an excuse for the Obama family to go on a safari as it was a mission intended to advance the nation’s business in Africa. That’s why we’re after the “mission taskings” information as well. (And, yes, we’re also investigating Mrs. Obama’s controversial vacation trip to Spain that took place last year.)
This is not the first time the Obamas have been accused of wasting taxpayer dollars for personal benefit in the middle of the financial crisis. Remember their infamous “date night” in 2009? Judicial Watch uncovered how the First Couple spent $11,000 taxpayer dollars in Secret Service costs alone so they could go from here in DC up to New York for dinner and a Broadway show. Press reports suggest the President and his entourage, which included White House staff and the press corps, used three military aircraft for the jaunt.
I’ve often said that at the center of the problem of corruption is a sense of entitlement on the part of our elected officials. The Obamas felt entitled to their date night, so who cares if it was on the taxpayer’s dime? Michelle Obama felt entitled to a high-six-figure (at least) trip to Africa with her family.
Just like Nancy Pelosi felt entitled to luxury military travel for her many trips back and forth to her San Francisco district (and other places).
You may recall we uncovered documents indicating that former Speaker Nancy Pelosi’s military travel cost the United States Air Force $2,100,744.59 over a two-year period — $101,429.14 of which was for in-flight expenses, including food and alcohol. And most recently, we uncovered documents showing the widespread use of luxury military aircraft by Members of Congress on Speaker-authorized congressional delegation trips (CODELS).
This nonsense has to stop!

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