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Pentagon mum on Pelosi flights

From NBC's Jim Miklaszewski

Pentagon officials are carefully deflecting questions today about House Speaker Nancy Pelosi's flying habits on military aircraft.

The conservative watchdog group Judicial Watch has posted a series of e-mails from Pelosi staff members with stern complaints whenever the speaker does not get the specific G-5 plane she prefers. 

"This is totally unacceptable. The Speaker will want to know where the planes are," said one email.

In another, a staffer wrote, "This is not good news and we will have some very disappointed folks as well as a very upset Speaker."

Another email complained of Pelosi canceling trips at the last minute, which rack up excessive time and money in plane and food preparations.

Today, Pentagon spokesman Geoff Morrell refused to wade into those risky political waters saying only that the Pentagon and Air force "provide aircraft for a number of government officials," and that "no one has rendered judgment" that Pelosi's use of aircraft "is excessive."

After 9/11 it was decided that the Speaker of the House be provided military aircraft for travel.

The speaker's office issued the following rebuttal earlier today:

Setting the Record Straight

Speaker's Travel between Washington and the District
·         Following the attacks of 9/11, the Bush White House instituted a policy for the Speaker of the House, for security reasons, to travel on a military plane – whenever available – back and forth to their congressional district only.

Use of Aircraft
·         The availability and size of the military aircraft is determined by the Department of Defense.  Typically, when Speaker Pelosi uses military aircraft to travel between her Congressional District and Washington, the military assigns the same 12-seat aircraft used by her predecessor, Speaker Dennis Hastert of Illinois.

·         The House Sergeant at Arms asked for an aircraft that can travel between the District and Washington without refueling citing security reasons.  See statement below from Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood dated February 8, 2007:

As the Sergeant at Arms, I have the responsibility to ensure the security of the members of the House of Representatives, to include the Speaker of the House. The Speaker requires additional precautions due to her responsibilities as the leader of the House and her Constitutional position as second in the line of succession to the presidency.

In a post 9/11 threat environment, it is reasonable and prudent to provide military aircraft to the Speaker for official travel between Washington and her district. The practice began with Speaker Hastert and I have recommended that it continue with Speaker Pelosi. The fact that Speaker Pelosi lives in California compelled me to request an aircraft that is capable of making non-stop flights for security purposes, unless such an aircraft is unavailable. This will ensure communications capabilities and also enhance security. I made the recommendation to use military aircraft based upon the need to provide necessary levels of security for ranking national leaders, such as the Speaker. I regret that an issue that is exclusively considered and decided in a security context has evolved into a political issue.

·         This myth has been thoroughly debunked and invalidated by researchers at a variety of nonpartisan organizations including Factcheck.org, a project of the Annenberg Public Policy Foundation at the University of Pennsylvania, which wrote:

·         The spread of this rumor – and its first debunking – dates back to February 2007. At that time, the speaker of the House had had access to an Air Force craft for about five and a half years. Hastert had been issued a plane after Sept. 11, 2001, for security reasons (the speaker of the House is next in line after the vice president for presidential succession).

·         When Pelosi became speaker, House Sergeant at Arms Bill Livingood, according to his own account, worried that the small craft [that Hastert used] would be unable to travel to her home district of San Francisco without stopping to refuel. Livingood, who was first elected by a Newt Gingrich-led House in 1995, asked the Air Force and the Department of Defense about getting a bigger plane.

Department of Defense makes ALL decisions about military travel
·         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.
·         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.\
·         The Speaker is extraordinarily appreciative of the Department of Defense's efforts to accommodate requests from Congress.

Mr. TONY SNOW (White House Press Secretary): I think this is much ado about not a whole lot. It is important for the speaker to have this kind of protection in travel. It was certainly appropriate for Speaker Hastert, and so we trust that all sides will get this worked out. (National Public Radio, 2/8/07).