Republican lawmakers with oversight over the Department of Justice are questioning whether Attorney General Eric Holder is improperly using FBI airplanes for personal travel.
In a letter today to FBI Director Robert Mueller, the lawmakers said they are disturbed by allegations, which came to light through a confidential Justice Department source, that Holder and other senior Justice Department officials may have used FBI planes for their own travel when they were needed for Bureau missions. In addition, the lawmakers question allegations from the same unidentified source that the Justice Department’s executive travel is being funded in part by the FBI and related agencies, despite the department maintaining its own travel budget. A Grassley spokesperson confirmed that the allegations were forwarded to the senator by a confidential Justice Department source.
Iowa Sen. Charles Grassley questioned Mueller in a May 16 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing about the FBI’s travel expenses, with the director assuring that aircraft is for official business first and for officials’ travel second. Still, questions remain, the letter states.
“It is our understanding that the FBI pays for the Attorney General’s travel despite the fact that he has his own travel budget,” the letter says. “Despite your assurances that investigative operations receive priority, we are concerned that FBI aircraft are used for extraneous business and personal travel by senior DOJ officials, including the Attorney General.”
FBI spokeswoman Amy Thoreson said the Bureau will be reviewing the letter and will respond to the lawmakers.
The letter is signed by Grassley, Judiciary’s ranking member; and Rep. Lamar Smith (Texas), chairman of the House Judiciary Committee. Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Texas) and Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.), the respective ranking member and chairman of the Appropriations subcommittees that fund the Justice Department, also signed the letter.
“Earlier this year, we heard troubling allegations that the Attorney General is among those who have reserved and used FBI planes for his own travel when aircraft were needed for FBI missions, then upgraded to a larger aircraft owned by a different agency and left the FBI plane sitting idle because he failed to notify the FBI in a timely manner,” the letter contends. “These allegations were particularly troubling because they suggested the FBI had to lease another plane to ensure the availability of aircraft for FBI operations.”
This is not the first time Grassley has called for a closer examination of FBI aircraft use. In 2008, Grassley asked the Government Accountability Office to audit how the FBI was using its aircraft after allegations of misuse arose.
The lawmakers contend that extraneous travel would put pressure on the FBI’s budget and operations. They also argue that though officials can reimburse the government for non-official travel, the return rate does not always cover the actual costs that ultimately come from taxpayer dollars. They cite the Office of Management Budget’s order to federal agencies in May to cut travel costs by 30 percent.
The lawmakers ask Mueller to provide detailed travel log and cost information for the past five years, in addition to further details on the Attorney General’s use of FBI aircraft. They give a response deadline of Sept. 7.