A conservative legal and transparency advocacy group on Monday filed suit against the Defense and Homeland Security departments to obtain details on the travel costs incurred by President Trump, First Lady Melania Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.
Judicial Watch, which for years filed high-visibility Freedom of Information Act requests related to the private email server used by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, is now going after the Air Force, Marine Corps and Secret Service for failing to release security cost documents requested under FOIA.
“The public controversy over President Trump’s travel will only increase if the Pentagon and Secret Service won’t disclose basic costs and other details as FOIA law requires,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton in a May 8 statement after filing the suit in the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia.
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The suit seeks “mission taskings, transportation costs, and passenger manifests for multiple flights between January and late March,” Judicial Watch said in a statement. The lawsuit also wants similar information about an Air Force One flight President Obama took to Honolulu, Hawaii, in December 2016/January 2017. “Extreme transparency should be the Trump administration’s ethic, especially after eight years of lawless Obama secrecy," Fitton added.
The suit demanded that the agencies either produce the requested records or “otherwise demonstrate that the requested records are exempt from production” under FOIA. It also argued that the plaintiff “will continue to be irreparably harmed unless defendants are compelled to comply with FOIA.”
The group specified eight flights taken by the president Trump; 10 flights by Melania Trump; two by Pence; one trip by Supreme Court then-nominee Neil Gorsuch; the December trip by Obama; and one flight to Aspen, Colo., for Ivanka Trump, Jared Kushner, Eric Trump and Donald Trump Jr.
Judicial Watch estimated that two wintertime Trump trips to Palm Beach, Fla., cost $1,281,420 and that Obama’s family travel costs from 2009-16 totaled $96,938,882.51.
The Secret Service has been declining reporter requests for details on security spending on Trump since December, and has asked for a $60 million budget hike for that purpose.
In late March, at the request of Democratic lawmakers, the Government Accountability Office agreed to examine Trump’s frequent use of what he calls the Florida White House, and the West Palm Beach mayor has also complained of new expenses. CNN last month calculated Trump could spend in one year what Obama spent in eight on security for travel.
When White House press secretary Sean Spicer was asked about the costs of Trump’s Mar-a-Lago compared with proposed cuts to domestic programs, he said, "Presidents always travel," and that Trump will continue to do so.