As Congress was in the middle of the debt ceiling debate this summer, deciding which bloated federal programs to cut, Michelle Obama decided to take a nice taxpayer-funded “working” vacation to South Africa and Botswana with her children. Judicial Watch began asking some very simple questions: What was the purpose of the trip and how much did it cost? We’re just now starting to get some answers.
Last week we obtained mission expense records and passenger manifests from the United States Air Force related to the June 21-27, 2011, trip. Judicial Watch obtained the documents pursuant to an August 19, 2011, Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit. It is amazing how transparent the Obama administration becomes once you sue them in a federal court!
On June 28, 2011, we filed a FOIA request seeking the mission taskings, transportation records, and passenger manifests for Michelle Obama’s Africa trip. Our FOIA lawsuit extracted some interesting information:
- According to U.S. Department of Defense’s published hourly rates for the C-32A aircraft used for the trip, we calculated the total cost to American taxpayers was $424,142 for the flight and crew. (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 reported.
- The expense records also indicate $928.44 were spent for “bulk food” purchases on flight. Overall, during the trip, 192 meals were served for the 21 passengers on board.
- The passenger manifests confirm the presence of Obama’s daughter’s, 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 professed purpose of Michelle Obama’s trip to South Africa and Botswana was to encourage young people living in the two growing democracies to become involved in national affairs; and during her scheduled stops in Pretoria and Cape Town, South Africa, and in Gaborone, the capital of Botswana, the First Lady used the opportunity to speak on education, health, and wellness issues.
The trip also included such tourist events as visits to historical landmarks and museums, plus a nonworking chance to send time with Nelson Mandela, a meeting that Mrs. Obama described as “surreal.” The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve before the group returned to Washington on June 27.
While the aircraft and crew expenses are now known, as stated in an analysis by White House Dossier (the blog of White House reporter Keith Koffer, writer for CongressDaily, National Journal, Roll Call and POLITICO), certain expenses incurred during the trip are difficult to assess without examining the records ‒ such as Secret Service protection, the care and feeding of staff, and pre-trip advance work done by administration officials in Africa.
This trip was as much an opportunity for the Obama family and friends to go on a safari as it was a trip intended to advance the administration’s agenda in Africa.
This certainly isn’t the first time Judicial Watch exposed the Obama’s frivolous spending on family social events. We previously uncovered that the First Couple’s 2009 “date night” trip to New York for dinner and a Broadway show cost taxpayers over $11,000 in Secret Service costs alone.