A Washington watchdog group has released scores of back-andforth Congress-Pentagon e-mails revealing the political pressure lawmakers put on the military in wartime to provide them with aircraft to fly domestically and overseas.
The rare glimpse inside “Air Congress” comes compliments of Judicial Watch, which acquired the messages and flying records of House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, California Democrat, and her predecessor through Freedom of Information Act requests, special correspondent Rowan Scarborough reports.
The pressure was so great in 2007 to find planes to take members of Congress to the Middle East, Asia, Europe and the funeral of a House member that aides to Mrs. Pelosi demanded that the Air Force account for every VIP plane in the fleet.
In another case, an exasperated Pentagon liaison officer responded with a list to show that the Senate had tied up most planes from the 89th Airlift Wing at Andrews Air Force Base. He said the Pentagon had located a Navy aircraft that could do the trip.
A Pelosi aide then asked the military if the Pentagon would bump a trip planned by Sen. Jon Kyl, Arizona Republican, to free up a plane for the funeral of Rep. Charles Norwood, Georgia Republican.
“Senator Kyl’s trip leaves tomorrow; [Rep. Silvestre] Reyes departs the next day,” the defense official tells the aide. “Thus, it may only [affect] crew rest time for Reyes, while delaying [the congressional delegation for] Kyl would impact his dates in Iraq, jeopardizing the viability of his trip. That leaves us the option of delaying Rep. Reyes’ trip. Also, we would be bumping a Senate trip for a House mission, another complicating factor.”
In another message, Mike Sheehy, then Mrs. Pelosi’s national security adviser, tells the Pentagon the speaker is not happy with the size of the plane provided for another Iraq trip and threatens to take her complaints to the top.
“[A staffer] gave me the bad news on the Speaker’s request for a few more seats on the theater aircraft into Iraq and Afghanistan,” Mr. Sheehy wrote in Mrs. Pelosi’s first month in power. “She is quite insistent on this given the rank of the members traveling, so we are going to need to pursue the matter further within DoD. I did not want to start those efforts without telling [you] first.”
The e-mails show the speaker’s office, which coordinates members’ military travel, took a keen interest in how many planes the Pentagon made available for them.
“Where are the planes?” asked Kay King, director of the House Office of Interparliamentary Affairs, in a May 2007 e-mail to the Pentagon. “It is my understanding that there are NO G-5s available for the House during the Memorial Day recess. This is totally unacceptable. The speaker will want to know where the planes are and why they cannot even support [a planned congressional delegation]. Can you please get us a report on the situation and the exact location of the planes during this time period?”
In an internal e-mail, an unnamed Pentagon official complains that Mrs. Pelosi’s office is scheduling planes, then canceling at the last moment, disrupting crew schedules.
A former Pentagon official from former Secretary of Defense Donald H. Rumsfeld’s era says that, to be fair, there is always extensive pressure from Congress for military aircraft bookings no matter who is speaker.
Judicial Watch also obtained copies of flight logs for Mrs. Pelosi and former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who was Mrs. Pelosi’s predecessor. The group said the logs show Mrs. Pelosi flew on twice as many military flights in a two-year period as did Mr. Hastert in three.
Mr. Hastert, who as speaker was third in line to the presidency, started the practice of using military corporate-type aircraft to fly to and from his home state of Illinois. The reason: increased security after the Sept. 11, 2001, terror attacks.
Mrs. Pelosi’s press office issued a “Setting the Record Straight” paper to rebut the Judicial Watch report. It pointed to an ABC.com story that questioned Judicial Watch’s flight-log analysis.
“The Department of Defense makes all decisions concerning the use of military aircraft by members of Congress, and the House has complied with all Department of Defense rules in this area,” the Pelosi press release says. “It is a function of the speaker’s office to coordinate Congressional delegation travel and act as a liaison between the Department of Defense and members of Congress.”
Judicial Watch stuck by its findings in a follow-up: “Contrary to what some reports in the media suggest, we found that Pelosi used military jets twice as much in two years as Hastert did in three years.”
Mrs. Pelosi raised eyebrows in the Pentagon when, upon taking office in 2007, she requested a larger plane so she would not have to make refueling stops to and from San Francisco. Today, her office says she uses a 12-seat plane, the same as Mr. Hastert, for her domestic trips. belonging to Neimenggu Ribao and Fujian Ribao.”
Asked about the reported threat to sink U.S. ships, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell said two weeks ago that the statement had not appeared in the Chinese press before. However, the nature of the comments prompted the Pentagon to ask for an official explanation from the Chinese Embassy in Washington during a meeting earlier this month, he said.
The Chinese explanation was that the embassy was “unfamiliar with the article,” he said. “We are awaiting their formal response,” Mr. Morrell added.
The meeting also was held to protest a later incident of Chinese naval harassment of the USNS Impeccable in the South China Sea.
Any dispute over activities in the 200-mile economic zone from China’s coast “in no way authorizes the use of force under UN Charter Article 51,” Mr. Morrell said.
Mr. Morrell said all countries enjoy high-seas freedoms in such zones, “including the right to engage in military activities without prior notification to, or consent of, the coastal state.”
Fly me to the moon: House Speaker Nancy Pelosi