With only hours to go before automatic budget cuts across the government, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, said a government report shows the Department of Justice is spending way too much on air travel for Attorney General Eric Holder and FBI Director Robert Mueller. But the DOJ and the FBI cited the same report as proof that Grassley’s complaints simply don’t fly.
“These luxury jets were supposedly needed for counterterrorism, but it turns out that they were used almost two-thirds of the time for jet-setting executive travel instead,” Grassley said. “Nobody disputes that the Attorney General and the FBI Director should have access to the secure communications, but, for instance, there’s no reason they can’t take a less expensive mode of transportation, or cut their personal travel.”
But the report from the Government Accountability Office referred to by Grassley contains no mention of DOJ leaders sipping wine and munching canapes while aloft to support the “luxury” adjective. Nor is there any suggestion of fun-filled junkets to buttress the “jet-setting” modifier.
And, as the GAO report noted, there is a reason Holder and Mueller cannot travel less expensively: they are required to fly aboard government aircraft with secure communications equipment, whether on business or for personal reasons.
In his latest assault on the DOJ, Grassley repeated his assertion that the department is taking a “sky is falling” attitude toward the looming budget cuts under the “sequester.” Indeed, Holder on Tuesday predicted dire consequences if the cuts take effect, and Grassley was immediately skeptical, as Main Justice reported.
In his most recent broadside, Grassley, who has assailed the DOJ for the failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation and other lapses, said, “I’m really interested in how the Attorney General can claim that federal law enforcement agents will be cut, knowing that over the last 5 years the Department has allowed for millions of dollars to be spent on personal travel. It’s ludicrous. The hypocrisy from the administration when they say that ‘the cuts apply to you, but not to me’ is hard to believe.”
The DOJ and FBI issued a joint statement declaring that their missions of fighting terrorism and investigating crimes “are the first priority” for their aircraft, and that the GAO report “confirms that the Department of Justice always adheres to these priorities.”
“The report also makes clear that the overwhelming majority of travel by recent Attorneys General and the Director – although termed ‘non mission’ travel by the report – has been for official business travel in furtherance of the Department’s national security and public safety mission,” the joint response said. (Although Grassley did not mention it, some of the time covered in the report was during the tenure of Holder’s predecessor, Michael B. Mukasey.)
Grassley said the GAO report, which he requested, shows the DOJ “has spent $11.4 million of taxpayer money to fly around the Attorney General and the FBI Director unrelated to the mission of their agencies.” But the $11.4 million covered fiscal years 2007 through 2011, as the GAO noted. Moreover, the GAO said nearly three-quarters of the $11.4 million was spent on government business.
When Holder and Mueller fly for personal reasons, they routinely reimburse the government, paying the equivalent full coach fare. (It is not disputed that flying a government plane with the communications equipment required by the Attorney General and FBI Director costs far more than the coach fare.)
The GAO report says its review found no evidence of improper travel for political reasons — another fact Grassley declined to mention.