JW Sues Air Force for Records Detailing Costs of Michelle Obama’s August 2010 “Whirlwind” Vacation to Spain During her time in the White House, Michelle Obama has most definitely demonstrated a penchant for taking expensive vacations with her family and friends – at taxpayers’ expense.You will recall that Judicial Watch previously obtained documents regarding a June 21-27, 2011, trip taken by Mrs. Obama, her family and her staff to South Africa and Botswana. Through the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) we obtained the mission expense records and passenger manifests for the Africa trip, which yielded a cost of $424,142 for the flight and crew alone. Other expenses, such as off-flight food, transportation, security, etc. were not included.
About the best you can say regarding the Africa trip is that it at least had the pretense of official business. The First Lady scheduled a few speeches on health and wellness in between tourist trips to historic landmarks, museums, shops and a non-working visit with Nelson Mandela.Not so with the First Lady’s jaunt to Spain the previous year. Judicial Watch has been investigating this vacation as well, but we’ve been stonewalled in our efforts to get the records. We asked for the documents last year (in August) but the Obama administration hasn’t bothered to produce one document. As a result, we were forced to file a lawsuit on March 5, 2012, in the United States District Court for the District of Columbia against the United States Air Force.
Specifically, we’re after the following records pursuant to our August 25, 2011, FOIA request:
- I. All records concerning mission taskings of First Lady Michelle Obama’s August 2010 trip to Spain;
- II. All records concerning transportation costs for Mrs. Obama’s August 2010 trip to Spain; and
- III. All passenger manifests (DD-2131) for Mrs. Obama’s August 2010 trip to Spain.
Per usual, we’re getting the runaround.
The U.S. Air Force acknowledged receiving Judicial Watch’s request on August 30, 2011, and was required by law to respond by October 13, 2011, at the latest. However, at the time of Judicial Watch’s lawsuit, the Air Force has neither released responsive documents nor indicated why these documents should be withheld. The Air Force has also failed to indicate when a response will be forthcoming.
So why would the Obama Defense Department refuse to turn over basic records about the cost of a trip by the First Lady?
I suspect it has something to do with damage control. In this age of out-of-control government spending, the specific details of taxpayer-funded luxury jaunts to the Costa del Sol in Spain would be politically toxic to the Obama administration. (I’m sure Mrs. Obama paid her family’s own hotel bill, but we’d like to know the cost to the taxpayer of getting her there and back!)
Here’s what we know about this trip so far.
In August 2010, Michelle Obama and one of her daughters embarked on what the press described as a “whirlwind tour of Spain,” which included visits to coastal towns, shopping and a lunch date with the country’s King and Queen. The Obamas reportedly stayed in the luxury Hotel Villa Padierna during the vacation. As reported by The New York Times, also accompanying Mrs. Obama on the trip were “two friends and four of their daughters, as well as a couple of aides and a couple of advance staff members.”
Mrs. Obama sustained heavy criticism for taking the vacation at the same time the U.S. reported a loss of 131,000 jobs. While the White House claims the Obamas “paid their own way” for the trip, taxpayers were responsible for certain costs, including Mrs. Obama’s security.
But while this lavish trip may be a source of embarrassment for the Obamas, this is not a sufficient reason to stonewall the release of records. Evidently, American taxpayers were stuck with a sizable bill so Mrs. Obama could tour around Spain with her family and friends. This administration, as a supposed steward of taxpayer dollars, has an obligation to disclose the full costs of the Obama family’s luxury trip.
Instead, we get, as is typical, utter contempt for the federal government’s core transparency law: FOIA.
We will continue to fight for these records so stay tuned…
JW Catches Obama White House in a Lie Regarding the Firing of Controversial USDA Employee
The smoking-gun documents we unearthed on the racial controversy surrounding the firing by the Obama administration of a black federal employee suggest that Holder should redirect his smear to a more deserving target – the Obama White House.
According to evidence recently uncovered by Judicial Watch, the Obama White House has some more explaining to do regarding its role in the controversial firing of U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) employee Shirley Sherrod. The White House said it had nothing to do with the decision. The documentary evidence we obtained says otherwise.
This story broke quite awhile ago. (In fact, it took nearly 18 months to extract these records.) So let me back up and remind you what this is all about.
On July 19, 2010, the Obama administration forced USDA employee Shirley Sherrod, who is an African-American, to resign from her job after a video was posted online showing Sherrod making what were thought to be racist statements during a speech at an NAACP meeting on March 27, 2010.
In this controversial video of the speech, first disclosed by the late Andrew Breitbart, Sherrod described her reluctance to help a white farmer save his land. Later in the video, however, Sherrod said she went on to work with the farmer and his wife over a two-year period to help prevent foreclosure on his farm.
The White House and the USDA reacted immediately to the video to quell what they assumed would be a furor over Sherrod’s controversial remarks. As reported by CNN, according to Sherrod, Deputy Undersecretary for Rural Development for the USDA Cheryl Cook called her three times, stressing that the White House wanted her to resign.
After the fallout from Sherrod’s firing, White House spokesman Robert Gibbs issued a clear denial that the White House played any role in the decision. According to Politico:
“This was, as you heard Secretary Vilsack say yesterday, a decision that was made by the U.S. Department of Agriculture,” said White House press secretary Robert Gibbs, who refused even to say which senior Obama aides have been involved in the process.
“The president was briefed yesterday and has been briefed, obviously, today as well,” added Gibbs, who said the White House was informed but not “consulted” about the firing.
However, new emails extracted from the Obama administration not only suggest the White House approved of the decision to fire Sherrod on July 19, 2010, they show White House officials helped craft and approved the language used by the Secretary of Agriculture in announcing acceptance of Sherrod’s forced resignation!
We got the records pursuant to an August 2, 2010, Freedom of Information Act request. They consist of internal emails between USDA employees and White House staff members in devising a public response to a rapidly growing controversy over the firing of Sherrod, who served as the USDA’s Georgia State Director of Rural Development.
These emails reveal that the Obama White House was in on this action from the get-go. For example:
- When informed on July 19, 2010, about Sherrod’s statements at the NAACP meeting, White House spokesperson Reid Cherlin emailed USDA Director of Communications Chris Mather “has she been fired?”
- Former Special Assistant to the President and White House Cabinet Communications Director Tom Gavin oversaw the writing and obtained counsel approval of the announcement by Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack on July 19, 2010, in which Vilsack stated, “Today, I accepted Ms. Sherrod’s resignation. There is zero tolerance for discrimination at USDA, and I strongly condemn any act of discrimination against any person.” In approving the copy, Gavin indicated in a July 19, 2010, email “We are good with this version on this end.”
- In an effort to emphasize what Vilsack needed to say to the press, Gavin emailed to Mather on July 19, 2010, “Just to be clear, this is the Secretary’s quote, right?” Mather responded, “I think it should be, don’t you,” to which Gavin replied, “absolutely.”
- As events unfolded on July 19, 2010, Mather emailed Gavin at the White House, “Did you connect with the NAACP?” Gavin responded, “OPE [Office of Public Engagement] did. We’ll be fine.”
The Obama White House would rather we just accept their explanations, but facts can be pesky things. The documents show that White House officials played a key role in the decision to force Sherrod’s resignation and then misled the American people about that role.
Judicial Watch Sues Federal Housing Finance Agency for Fannie/Freddie Documents on Housing Meltdown
Judicial Watch has been locked in a series of battles with the Obama administration over Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac records. Fannie and Freddie are now run directly by the Obama administration, specifically the Federal Housing Finance Agency (FHFA).
The Obama administration continues to advance the arrogant notion – first put forth in its defense against our lawsuit attempting to shake loose Fannie and Freddie records detailing political contributions) – that their records are not subject to the Freedom of Information Act (FOIA).
We vehemently disagree. We launched an investigation into a controversial lawsuit filed by the FHFA intended to extort billions of dollars from private financial institutions on behalf of Fannie and Freddie.
On March 5, 2012, we sued the FHFA to obtain documents related to this lawsuit, which targets 17 financial institutions alleging violations of federal securities laws in the sale of mortgage loans to Fannie and Freddie.
Specifically, Judicial Watch seeks the following records in its September 20, 2011, FOIA request:
Records of, indicating, and/or demonstrating the losses that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac incurred on private-label mortgage-backed securities (PLS) purchased from 17 financial institutions. The specific financial institutions from which the securities were purchased are identified in the enclosed FHFA press release announcing its lawsuit, as conservator for Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac, seeking damages and civil penalties under the Securities of 1933.
Again, we hit a stone wall. The Obama administration continues to maintain that not one record from Fannie or Freddie will be released under FOIA.
The documents that the Obama administration is keeping secret may go to the heart of the continuing housing crisis.
On September 2, 2011, the FHFA announced that it had filed a lawsuit against 17 financial institutions, including Bank of America, Countrywide, Citigroup, Morgan Stanley and JP Morgan Chase.
With its lawsuit, the FHFA alleges “some portion of the losses that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac incurred on private-label mortgage-backed securities are attributable to misrepresentations and other improper actions by the firms and individuals named in these filings.” (Private-label mortgage-backed securities were allegedly sold and marketed to Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac.)
The FHFA contends that these institutions misrepresented the level of risk associated with these financial instruments when selling them to Fannie and Freddie. In other words, these financial institutions somehow tricked Fannie and Freddie into buying these mortgage-backed securities.
But as reported by The New York Times “…financial service industry executives argue that the losses on the mortgage-backed securities were caused by a broader downturn in the economy and the housing market, not by how the mortgages were originated or packaged into securities. In addition, they contend that investors like…Fannie and Freddie were sophisticated and knew the securities were not without risk.”
Frankly, the argument that these financial institutions somehow duped Fannie and Freddie is ludicrous. As best as I can tell, Fannie and Freddie (and federal housing policy, generally) helped to create the mortgage-backed securities and secondary mortgage markets that collapsed in 2008. The collapse came about because of the loss of confidence in the sub-prime mortgage market – which was also pushed along by the federal government. (Take a look at this Wall Street Journal editorial for some background on these “fast and easy” government-sponsored mortgages.)
This Obama administration lawsuit is a red herring designed to avert blame from government social engineering/housing policy that has resulted in over $150 billion (and counting) in taxpayer losses. And the Obama administration says that not one document from Fannie and Freddie, through which the federal government runs the nation’s mortgage markets, is subject to disclosure under FOIA to the American people.
Now that it has a shakedown disguised as a lawsuit against much of the private banking industry, the Obama administration is doubling down on its obsessive secrecy. We hope, through our new lawsuit, that the federal courts will vindicate the public’s right to know about this truly epic scandal.
Until next week…