Michelle Obama talking about her African trip
Judicial Watch has filed a lawsuit over the federal government’s refusal to disclose how much taxpayers spent to send Michelle Obama on a “family outing” that included a safari in Africa.
The organization, which investigates and fights government corruption, earlier documented what appears to many to be the extravagant spending by then-House Speaker Nancy Pelosi. Records showed Pelosi cost taxpayers $101,000 for in-flight food and alcohol over a period in 2008 and 2009. At one point she instructed the Air Force to provide chocolate-covered strawberries for a snack, since it was her birthday.
“Dark chocolate preferred” was the order.
Now Judicial Watch wants to know what taxpayers are spending for Michelle Obama’s vacations.
“How much did the American people spend to send the First Lady on a family outing in Africa? That’s what we want to know,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “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.”
The organization requested information in June regarding the expenses for the trip. The request included records for the mission taskings for the June 21-27 trip to South Africa and Botswana, the transportation costs and all passenger manifests for the trip.
The government had until Aug. 3 to respond, but did not, so Judicial Watch now has followed up with a lawsuit.
“The professed purpose of Mrs. Obama’s trip was to encourage young people living in South Africa and Botswana to get involved in national affairs,” the Judicial Watch report said. “The First Lady’s remarks focused on education, health and wellness issues.
“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,” the Judicial Watch report said.
“The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve before the group returned to Washington on June 27,” Judicial Watch said.
The organization noted that the White House Dossier, a blog by White House reporter Keith Koffer, said the cost to taxpayers for a C-32 aircraft for the trip alone was $430,000.
This cost, JW reported, was based on an estimated charge of $12,723 an hour, which is what the Department of Defense charges other federal agencies to use that airplane. If a military cargo plane was included – which is typical for Michelle Obama’s trips – the transportation alone could have cost another $200,000.
Additionally, there would be costs for Secret Service protection, the care and feeding of a numerous staff members, pre-trip staff work and others categories.
Judicial Watch reported earlier that a “date night” for the Obamas – for a New York dinner and Broadway show – cost taxpayers more than $11,000 in Secret Service expenses alone.
The organization said it is investigating such costs “in the face of a ballooning federal debt and a sinking economy.”
The announcement about the court case came just a day after The Daily Mail in the United Kingdom touted the 10 million in public money Michelle Obama has spent on her “vacations.”
“Branding her ‘disgusting’ and ‘a vacation junkie,’ [reports] say the 47-year-old mother-of-two has been indulging in five-star hotels, where she splashes out on expensive massages and alcohol,” the London paper said.
The report said Michelle Obama is believed to have taken 42 days of vacation in the last year, including a respite in Spain that cost $375,000 and a $2,000-a-night ski trip to Vail, Colo.
The family currently is on another vacation, at Blue Heron Farm on Martha’s Vineyard, where the rental fees are estimated at $50,000 a week.
The paper reported the situation was aggravated because the Obamas took separate airplanes to the Massachusetts retreat – even though they traveled the same day.
Also, the report cited figures from a Hawaii Reporter investigation into the Obamas’ trip to Hawaii last winter, where the costs were $63,000 to bring Michelle Obama to town ahead of the president, $38,000 for a beach property rental, $134,000 for staff members to stay in a nearby hotel and $251,000 in police overtime.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi
The White House Dossier report explained South African U.S. Embassy spokeswoman Elizabeth Trudeau confirmed the African trip was partly personal.
“She’s coming on this trip to talk about women’s development and youth development, and South Africa is a leader in that, not only on the continent but globally,” Trudeau said in the report. “A visit to South Africa is important for them as a family. She’ll be visiting many struggle-era landmarks, including the Apartheid Museum (and) the Hector Pieterson Memorial.”
Pelosi’s spending habits first came to light through Judicial Watch efforts, revealing the $101,000 that taxpayers spent for in-flight food and alcohol for her during that time period.
It was last year she requested that strawberries be provided for a special treat on her Air Force transport because it was her birthday. Not just any strawberries: chocolate-covered strawberries. “Dark chocolate preferred.”
Then there was a follow-up report from Judicial Watch that more taxpayer money – hundreds of thousands of dollars – were spent in the months before Pelosi handed the gavel over to Rep. John Boehner as Republicans took control of the House following the 2010 election.
Among the receipts: $130 from a Detroit store for popcorn, cheese puffs, Hershey’s milk chocolate kisses, peanuts, Snickers minis, Nilla wafers, ginger snaps, mixed nuts, dry roasted peanuts, M&M peanuts, Kraft caramels and crackers.
That order apparently was connected to a congressional delegation trip to Detroit that cost some $24,000 in air travel expenses plus another $10,000 in miscellaneous expenses.
The records, which are linked Judicial Watch’s website, include flight manifests, expense summaries, copies of receipts and congressional correspondence for Pelosi’s trips in 2010.
There’s not a grand total for the expenditures because of the nature of the reporting: Sometimes there were reimbursements listed for members of Pelosi’s family traveling with her, and it was unclear whether those reimbursements were paid.
The individual files of 50 to 100 pages of details are posted online in three parts:
The details include information on a May 6-10, 2010, trip to Afghanistan and Germany “to discuss issues of mutual interest in Qatar and Afghanistan, as well as conduct oversight on women’s issues (troops) in Afghanistan and to visit with US troops and meet with government officials in Germany.”
Tab for the military travel? $204,135.
And Pelosi “made a personal request that the ‘maximum per diem allowance be made available at the enhanced rate of an additional $50.'”
Also uncovered were “numerous” trips by Pelosi between San Francisco and Andrews Air Force Base.
Part of the tab for alcoholic drinks on a congressional trip arranged by House Speaker Nancy Pelosi
“Several of these trips included members of Speaker Pelosi’s family, including her husband, daughter, granddaughters and son-in-law.”
The Detroit trip? Costs were $24,336 for commercial air travel and another $10,046 in “expenses.”
The Pentagon also paid for military escorts for the trip, the report noted.
Earlier reports documented that she spent $2,100,744.59 in military travel costs in a single two-year period. That included the $101,429.14 taxpayers paid for “in-flight expenses, including food and alcohol.”
“For example, purchases for one Pelosi-led congressional delegation traveling from Washington, D.C., through Tel Aviv, Israel to Baghdad, Iraq, May 15-20, 2008, included: Johnny Walker Red scotch, Grey Goose vodka, E&J brandy, Bailey’s Irish Crème, Maker’s Mark whiskey, Courvoisier cognac, Bacardi Light rum, Jim Beam whiskey, Beefeater gin, Dewars scotch, Bombay Sapphire gin, Jack Daniels whiskey, Corona beer and several bottles of wine,” Judicial Watch reported.
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