Air Congress

The Washington Times Weekly - - National Security -

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

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