The Obama administration has mastered inventing bogus new exemptions in the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) law. There is the infamous “spiking the football” exemption (AKA the “offending the terrorists” exemption) that I referenced recently that was used to keep the bin Laden death images secret. Unfortunately, the courts bought that one.
Then there is the embarrassment exemption. We’ve seen this one employed on too many occasions to count. Any records that might cause damage to the image of the president and his administration are held under lock and key.
That’s why Judicial Watch has had to fight so hard to obtain the administration’s vacation travel records. Thanks to our investigations team, we’ve been extremely successful in breaking through the Obama stonewall in order to tally the cost to the American taxpayer of these personal trips. We recently did it again.
JW released U.S. Secret Service records from the Department of Homeland Security detailing expenditures of $295,437.04 by President Obama, First Lady Michelle Obama, and Vice President Joe Biden during separate luxury vacations over the 2013 Presidents’ Day Weekend. A separate group of documents shows that taxpayers paid more than $1,000,000 for Michelle Obama’s controversial 2011 trip to South Africa and Botswana.
President Obama spent the Presidents’ Day Weekend (February 15-18) on a golf trip in West Palm Beach, Florida. First Lady Michelle Obama and her daughters spent the same holiday weekend on a ski trip in Aspen, Colorado. Vice President Biden and his family spent that weekend skiing in Aspen.
Once again, we had to sue for these records, filing a FOIA lawsuit on June 21, 2013, against the U.S. Secret Service. According to the billing records, here’s the bang you got for your taxpayer buck:
Transportation and lodging costs for the President’s trip totaled $98,135.79. This includes $32,406.50 for the flights, $16,466.25 for rental cars, and $48,490 for hotel rooms.
The vacation costs for First Lady Michelle Obama totaled $81,523.64, including $13,221.30 in flights, $3,925 in rental cars, and $64,377.34 in lodging.
The expenses for Vice President Biden’s weekend in Aspen totaled $115,777.61, including $5,315 in flights, $92,596 in accommodations, and $17,866.61 in rental cars.
Additionally, even though we filed our lawsuit back on October 4, 2011, we are just now getting records detailing the full costs of the June 21-27, 2011 trip taken by Michelle Obama, her family, and her staff to South Africa and Botswana.
According to this most recent batch of records obtained from the United States Air Force, during the six-day trip the First Lady and her entourage spent $668,702.01, including hotel and lodging costs of $430,614.18. The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve.
This $668,702.01 expenditure was in addition to the $424,142 taxpayers were billed for the cost of the flight and crew, according to earlier documents obtained by Judicial Watch, bringing the total cost of the trip over $1 million.
After all of our litigating and investigating these travel records, this much is clear: The Obamas and Vice President Biden do not seem to care a whit about sticking taxpayers with the bill for their vacation travel. However, they care very much about keeping these costs secret. The stonewalling over releasing these travel numbers suggests that the Obama administration is embarrassed by the personal travel of President Obama and Vice President Biden. And rightly so.
Embarrassment is not a valid reason to exempt documents from disclosure. In fact, quite the opposite. Often the most embarrassing documents shed light on the most egregious abuses of the public trust. This is the very reason for FOIA law: to allow the American people to know the government’s business so that corrupt and abusive activities can be exposed and discouraged.
Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton is author of the NY Times best-seller “The Corruption Chronicles” and executive producer of the documentary “District of Corruption.”