The Obamas are vacationing, again, on the Massachusetts island of Martha’s Vineyard this summer. They’re staying in a 5,000-square-foot, $7 million home rented from Chicago friend David Schulte.
Again, there’s been golfing, dining out, basketball, roads closed and motels filled with security officers.
So a public interest law firm in Washington, D.C., is beginning yet another legal action to try to uncover the costs American taxpayers have paid for vacations. Not their own vacations, those for Barack Obama, his wife and daughters.
The latest lawsuit brought by Judicial Watch is trying to pry loose from the Secret Service the costs of protection for family members as they visited South Africa, Europe and Asia.
The suit alleges that the Secret Service has stonewalled efforts through the Freedom of Information Act to seek the costs of family’s trips to Martha’s Vineyard, Hawaii, Spain, Mexico and one daughter’s spring break trip to the Bahamas.
Judicial Watch Director of Investigations Christopher Ferrell told WND that while critics of their investigations argue that other presidents have traveled freely, the nature of the trip makes a difference.
“There is a major difference between the president flying in an official capacity and if a president flies back to his home state and his private residence,” Ferrell said. “Did they go back to their own home, or did they go to a resort? There is obviously a cost difference there.”
Politifact at the Tampa Bay Times said Mark Knoller, a CBS White House correspondent, tabulated that while Obama has taken 92 days of vacation since being sworn in, President George W. Bush at the same point had taken 367.
But the analysis notes that while most of Bush’s “vacation” days were at a family ranch in Texas, sometimes even while hosting foreign leaders, the Obama clan has jetted off to exotic mansions in Hawaii, top-flight hotels in France, safaris in Africa and the like.
“You can look at days away versus days worked. You can look at travel plans. In my personal estimation, even if the dollars add up pretty much the same, the public perception is that Mr. Obama and his family have a sweet tooth for luxury travel and resorts,” Ferrell said.
“There are government records, and we have them on our website. Actual government records document the aircraft used, the amount of time, the staff, all the costs, all the resources that are expended to support this travel,” Ferrell said.
Ferrell said his group has examined the records to compare the cost differences between Obama’s official trips as president and his leisure trips.
“This is for the president in his official capacity, but this is also for Mrs. Obama, the two daughters, the entire posse that travels with them. There [are] even details for the Secret Service detail’s hotel accommodations,” Ferrell said.
There was considerable controversy surrounding the Obamas’ trip to Africa. While Judicial Watch does not yet have records for that trip, Fox News did an investigation.
Fox News reported, using Government Accountability Office documents, that President Clinton’s 1998 trip to six African nations cost at least $42.7 million – not including Secret Service expenses.
Obama’s trip was estimated to cost the federal government $60 million to $100 million, based on the costs of similar African trips in recent years, Fox News said.
Judicial Watch has released the details on Michelle Obama’s 2011 trip to South Africa.
Judicial Watch filed a FOIA request June 28, 2011, seeking the mission taskings, transportation records,and passenger manifests for Michelle Obama’s Africa trip. Documents were only provided after Judicial Watch filed suit, the organization said.
“According to U.S. Department of Defense’s published hourly rates for the C-32A aircraft used for the trip, Judicial Watch calculated the total cost to American taxpayers was $424,142 for use of the aircraft (34.8 flight hours x $12,188 per hour). (The C-32 is a specially configured military version of the Boeing 757.) Other expenses – meals (off the plane), transportation, security, various services, etc. – have yet to be disclosed.
“The passenger manifests confirm the presence of Obama’s daughters, Malia and Sasha, on the trip. The two girls are listed as ‘Senior Staff.’ The manifests also list Mrs. Obama’s mother, Marian Robinson, and niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson, as well Mrs. Obama’s makeup and hairstylist (Carl Ray and Johnny Wright).
“The expense records also show $928.44 was spent for ‘bulk food’ purchases on flight. Overall, during the trip, 192 meals were served for the 21 passengers on board.”
Judicial Watch also filed a FOIA request with the Air Force to discover the cost of this Sasha and Malia’s spring break trip this year to the Atlantis Resort in the Bahamas.
Cited in the request was Obama’s own Jan. 21, 2009, statement regarding openness in government and disclosure.
“All agencies should adopt a presumption in favor of disclosure, in order to renew their commitment to the principles embodied in the FOIA. … The presumption of disclosure should be applied to all decisions involving FOIA,” Obama said.
Judicial Watch has not reported any response from the Air Force.
Documents obtained on Malia Obama’s March 2012 trip to Mexico show that the cost of that excursion topped $100,000.
The Judicial Watch website report gives details on ground transportation and other costs.
Ground transportation: $23,964.81
Vouchers: $21,636.14 (not itemized)
Support Charges: $449.66 (travel for one from Mexico City to Oaxaca, not itemized)
The report said Malia Obama’s spring break trip evoked controversy after the Obama White House reportedly ordered the removal of press reports detailing the trip.
A month before Malia’s Mexico trip, the Obama family took a ski excursion to Aspen, Colo., also on the taxpayer’s money.
The Judicial Watch report states that the President’s Day weekend trip cost over $83,000.
The Secret Service accommodations on that trip topped $48,000 and the flight cost was $22,583.70.
“Key details, including flight records for the Secret Service detail and the names of individuals who accompanied Mrs. Obama on the vacation, were redacted from the documents with the exception of two staffers. One was Meredith Koop, her personal assistant and style advisor, the other was her scheduler Kristen Jarvis,” the report said.
The Aspen Daily News reported that the Obama’s attempted to keep the facts of the trip from leaking to the press.
The family’s 2010 vacation to Hawaii, in which they leased a beachfront mansion, is the subject of another Judicial Watch investigation.
“That mansion on the beach was great for them, but what about the contingent of about 100 or so Secret Service agents? Where do they go? They go to a hotel nearby,” Ferrell said.
“So there was a substantial hotel bill for that trip,” Ferrell said.
The Hawaii Reporter said that the Obama’s trip ran-up a hefty tab:
They could have chosen a less expensive and more secure place to stay such as a beachfront home on the Marine Corps Base Hawaii – just a two-minute drive away from the Kailuana Place property where they are now. The president visits the military base daily to work out, bowl with his kids or enjoy the more private beach there. He also could have stayed at a home 15 minutes away on the beach fronting Bellows Air Force Base as President Bill Clinton did.
Instead, Obama and his friends annually pool their money to pay for the rental of three luxury beachfront homes. The so-called “Winter White House” – or Kailua home that the president rents two weeks a year – can cost an estimated $3,500 a day or $75,000 a month, according to the website Gadling.com.
The site describes the home where the president sleeps: “The 7,000-square foot home features 5 bedrooms, 5 ½ bathrooms, a media room with surround sound, a kitchen suited for a master chef, a dining room and great room, a secluded lagoon-style pool with tropical waterfalls and a lavish island spa. The ocean lanai and garden lanai showcase ornate landscaping and stunning views of Kailua Bay and Mount Olomana.”
Ferrell confirmed that in 2011, the Obama’s dog, Bo, actually received a separate flight to Martha’s Vineyard, as he did this year.
The report details Michelle Obama’s August 2010 trip to Spain.
The records reveal the trip cost more than $200,000 for the flights alone.
The Judicial Watch reports said U. S. Air Force records indicate a total cost of $213,124.15:
According to U.S. Department of Defense’s 2010 published hourly rates, the total cost of flying Michelle Obama and her guests from Camp Andrews to Malaga and then to Mallorca and back to the United States was $199,323.75. This is based on approximately 17 hours and 15 minutes of total flying time.
The 15-member flight crew stayed at Tryp Guadalmar, a nearby motel. Lodging cost was $10,290.60 and car rental cost was $2,633.50. Food cost was $876.30, including $57.68 for four bottles of maple syrup and a package of pancake mix.
The U.S. Air Force concealed the number of civilian passengers who accompanied Mrs. Obama on the five-day trip, citing an exemption to FOIA law.
The New York Times reported that Michelle Obama brought along one of her daughters and two friends and four of their daughters, as well as a couple of aides and a couple of advance staff members.
Secret Service records show that the costs to the agency for the vacation were $254,461.20. This total includes $26,670.61 for a chauffeur tour of Costa del Sol and $50,078.78 for a travel planning company SET P&V, S.L.
Taxpayers also paid for the Obama’s dog and his handler.
Regarding the lawsuit, Ferrell said litigation is necessary to achieve the organization’s purpose.
“It’s consistent with our mission which is government accountability. The people have a right to know how [their] money is being spent by its trusted servants,” Ferrell said.
He said it’s one of eight or nine lawsuits Judicial Watch has filed against the Secret Service in the last five years or so about the agency’s travel in relation to the Obama family.
“The agency is obviously reluctant to respond in a timely manner,” he said.
Ferrell said that once the Secret Service gets “before the federal judge the agency kind of snaps out of their somnolence and decides they better abide by the open records law.”