Written by Tom Fitton
JW Sues Secret Service for Records Detailing Security Costs for Obama Daughter’s Spring Break Trip to Mexico
Judicial Watch is investigating yet another Obama personal vacation, trying to get a sense of costs passed on to American taxpayers. This time, our investigation focuses on the security costs associated with First Daughter Malia Obama’s trip to Mexico during Spring Break 2012.
On September 20, 2012, we filed a Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) lawsuit against the United States Secret Service to obtain relevant records.
This Spring Break vacation is shrouded in some controversy. On March 19, 2012, the Obama White House reportedly pressured the removal of press reports detailing the trip, including news that Malia Obama was accompanied by 25 U.S. Secret Service Agents.
Here are the records we’re after through our original March 29, 2012, FOIA request:
Any and all records regarding, concerning, or related to the expenditure of U.S. Government funds to provide security and/or any other services for Malia Obama and any companions during her March 2012 visit to Mexico.
According to a U.S. Postal Service record, the Secret Service received Judicial Watch’s request on April 6, 2012. By law, the Secret Service was required to respond to the FOIA request by May 4, 2012. However, to date, the agency has failed to release the requested records, state why the records must be withheld, or indicate when a response will be forthcoming.
Now, regarding these “now you see it, now you don’t” press reports, on Monday, March 19, numerous online press outlets reported that the President’s 13-year-old daughter, Malia Obama, was on a Spring Break trip to Mexico accompanied by 25 U.S. Secret Service Agents and as many as 12 of her friends. However, shortly after the press reports surfaced, they were quickly removed from the Internet.
According to the original Politico report:
The AFP, the Huffington Post and other websites have scrubbed a report about first daughter Malia Obama’s school trip.
On Monday, the AFP reported that Obama’s daughter was on a school trip along with a number of friends and 25 Secret Service agents. The story was picked up by Yahoo, the Huffington Post, and the International Business Times, as well as UK publications like the Daily Mail and the Telegraph and other overseas publications like The Australian.
But on Monday night, the story had been removed from those sites.
In an update to this story, Politico published a statement issued by Kristina Schake, Communications Director to the First Lady, indicating that the removal of these news stories was “a White House effort:” “From the beginning of the administration, the White House has asked news outlets not to report on or photograph the Obama children when they are not with their parents and there is no vital news interest. We have reminded outlets of this request in order to protect the privacy and security of these girls,” stated Ms. Schake.
Speaking of the “security of these girls,” the trip reportedly took place shortly after the Texas Department of Public Safety issued a statement advising students on Spring Break “to avoid Mexico.”
The gist of this report was that there was quite a bit of violence taking place in Mexico at the time, including at some resort properties. It was, in fact, the “widest travel advisory” issued regarding Mexico since 2006.
Many questioned why, under these circumstances, the First Daughter and her friends would travel to Mexico, a country overrun by Mexican drug cartels.
Contrary to federal law, the Obama administration has simply ignored this basic FOIA request. I have little doubt that this stonewall is because of the embarrassment of the security costs for the Spring Break trip of the Obamas’ daughter – security costs that may have been more significant given the dangerous situation in Mexico at the time of the trip.
So this now makes the third Obama family vacation under Judicial Watch’s microscope.
Judicial Watch previously obtained records from the United States Air Force and the United States Secret Service detailing Michelle Obama’s February 2012 President’s Day weekend ski vacation to Aspen, Colorado, with her two daughters. The records indicate U.S. Secret Service costs, including accommodations at the Fasching Haus deluxe condominium and the Inn at Aspen, were $48,950.38.
Judicial Watch also obtained documents from the United States Air Force and the United States Secret Service detailing costs associated with Michelle Obama’s controversial August 2010 vacation to Spain. According to a Judicial Watch analysis, the records indicate a total combined cost of at least $467,585.
Judicial Watch also obtained documents detailing costs of a June 21-27, 2011, trip taken by Michelle Obama, her family and her staff to South Africa and Botswana. Judicial Watch received mission expense records and passenger manifests for the Africa trip that described costs of $424,142 for the flight and crew alone. Other expenses, such as off-flight food, transportation, security, etc. were not included.
The Obama administration will likely attempt to hide behind “privacy concerns” regarding their daughter’s trip. The lawsuit is about the security costs associated with non-essential travel for the Obama family.
This is a simple Freedom of Information lawsuit that targets the Secret Service. The decision to allow a Spring Trip visit to Mexico, with all the attendant taxpayer expenditures, was made by adults. And, now, adults in the Obama administration refuse to follow the law and disclose the information we’re seeking.
A few weeks ago I told you how Rep. Laura Richardson (D-CA) received nothing but a slap on the wrist for, among other transgressions, forcing her taxpayer-funded congressional staff to work on her campaign. Well now the House Ethics Committee has allowed yet another California Democrat member of Congress to skate — Rep. Maxine Waters. (Incidentally, both Richardson and Waters were listed on JW’s list of “Washington’s Most Wanted Corrupt Politicians” for 2011.)
On September 12, the House Ethics Committee released a report detailing its Waters investigation, which was characterized by Politico as a “chronicle of mistakes, partisan and intraparty squabbles, allegations of racism, bitter personal rivalries and failed attempts to bring the investigation to a close months and even years before it ended.”
Here’s more from Politico:
The Ethics Committee’s probe of the California congresswoman’s dealings with a minority-owned bank in which her husband held stock dragged on 38 months and consumed probably millions in legal fees — far more than the roughly $350,000 investment that Waters’s husband, Sidney Williams, was in danger of losing if OneUnited Bank collapsed during the 2008 U.S. financial crisis.
In the end, Waters emerged unscathed. The only person found to have committed any wrongdoing was her top aide.
On Tuesday, the House Ethics Committee issued its final report in the case. Waters will not be charged with any violations of House ethics rules. That decision is a big win for the California Democrat and clears the way for her to seek the ranking member post on the Financial Services Committee next year.
By the way, the “punishment” meted out to Waters’ top aide (did I mention he is also Waters’ grandson?) was a “letter of reproval” which is reportedly the lightest sanction the committee could have possibly issued.
Now, let’s take a brief look at the evidence so you can see why this is such an outrage.
In August 2010, an investigative subcommittee of the House Ethics Committee charged Rep. Waters with three counts of violating House rules and ethics regulations in connection with her use of power and influence on behalf of OneUnited Bank. She was expected to face an ethics trial in late 2010, but the committee delayed the trial indefinitely on November 29, 2010, citing newly discovered documentary evidence that may impact proceedings. (Ultimately outside counsel was hired in July 2011 after internal squabbling kept the investigation stuck in the mud.)
According to The Associated Press, the charges currently under the House Ethics Committee microscope “focus on whether Waters broke the rules in requesting federal help [bailout money] for a bank where her husband owned stock and had served on the board of directors.” At the time she requested the help, Waters neglected to tell Treasury officials about her financial ties to OneUnited Bank.
Seems pretty open and shut, right? This is a clear case of a conflict of interest if there ever was one. Waters’ husband stood to financially benefit from an official action taken by Rep. Waters. And no one is buying the idea that Waters simply “forgot” about her husband’s stake in the bank while she worked to get a bailout. (By the way, outgoing Rep. Barney Frank has his hands all over the OneUnited scandal as well…and the House Ethics Committee didn’t even bother to seriously investigate his involvement.)
I don’t think there’s any question that were this a fair and square analysis, without any favoritism, OneUnited would not have received a Troubled Asset Relief Program (TARP) funding. The Treasury Department stated that it would only provide bailout funds to healthy banks to jump-start lending. However, Judicial Watch uncovered documents detailing the deplorable financial condition of OneUnited at the time of the cash infusion. In fact, just prior to the bailout, OneUnited received a “less than satisfactory rating.”
Regarding the ethics investigation, it was a mess pretty much from the outset, thanks largely to efforts by California Rep. Zoe Lofgren’s attempts to throw monkey wrench after monkey wrench into the proceedings.
Not only did Lofgren, also a Democrat, fail to issue subpoenas for records related to the scandal, but she also delayed the ethics committee hearing after doing everything in her power to undermine the professional committee staff leading the investigation. And, as if that were not enough, Lofgren then improperly fired two attorneys working on the investigation.
Ultimately outside counsel had to be hired to pull the investigation out of chaos. The final result was a report that ultimately allowed everyone involved off the hook, save for a minor infraction leveled against a Waters aide that will not so much as leave a scratch on his record.
I am certainly not surprised by the ultimate result here. I don’t think there’s any doubt Waters acted inappropriately. The report details how she knew that her personal investment would make it unethical for her to push for an OneUnited bailout. So Barney Frank told her to personally stay out of it and that he would handle it. How’s that for “ethics.” Waters is conflicted, so she asks someone else, namely the chairman of the relevant committee, to do her dirty work for her. Only in the ethics la-la land of Congress would this be deemed appropriate.
If you’ve been reading this space over the last few months, you know that Judicial Watch is a leader in rooting out corruption in the neighboring state of Maryland. We waged a successful battle on behalf of our client, MDPetitions.com, to put taxpayer funded tuition breaks for illegal aliens on the ballot in 2012 after illegal alien special interests tried to silence the voters on the matter.
And after Maryland Governor O’Malley signed off on a twisted and “comical” (to use the Washington Post description) gerrymandered congressional district plan, we successfully fought alongside MDPetitions.com to put the map on the ballot as well.
Well, we’re at it again in the “Old Line State,” this time focusing on a charge of corruption within the Governor’s office. According to a Judicial Watch investigation, it appears Governor O’Malley improperly used official office resources for personal and political purposes, which is a big “no-no” according to state law. On September 24, 2012, we sent a letter to the Chairman of the Maryland State Ethics Commission reviewing the evidence against the Maryland Governor and asking for an investigation.
But before we get into the facts of the case, here’s what the law [Section 15-506 of the State Government Article of the Maryland Code] states: “An official or employee may not intentionally use the prestige of office or public position for that official’s or employee’s private gain or that of another.”
Because so much turns on the technical assessment of these terms, let’s define a couple of them. The Governor of Maryland is certainly a public position, yes? And “private gain” obviously includes personal political objectives, such as seeing a favored candidate win or achieving a desired election result on a ballot question.
Now emphasizing the importance of this legal provision at a critical time (an election year), the State Ethics Commission sent a memorandum on January 4, 2012, to all state employees, board members and candidates, stating: “As a practical matter, [Section 15-506] prohibits the use of State time, materials, equipment, or facilities for political purposes.”
“Materials” as described above would obviously include official State letterhead, wouldn’t you agree?
Okay, good. Now that we’re straight on the law, here is what Governor O’Malley did.
On September 18, 2012, Governor O’Malley sent a letter – on his official state letterhead, complete with the Great Seal of the State of Maryland — to the members of the Democratic State Central Committee (the governing body of the state Democratic Party).
In that letter, Governor O’Malley wrote the following:
I don’t need to remind you how important this election is. Whether it’s protecting the investments we make together in our schools, re-electing Senator Cardin, Congressman Van Hollen, and President Obama, or helping elect a new Democratic Congressional majority by sending John Delaney to Congress – the work we do together during this election cycle will determine what type of work we’re able to do together for the people of our State in the years to come.
I’m writing to ask not only for your vote, but for your voice.
Governor O’Malley also specifically asked each recipient to campaign for certain questions on the November 2012 ballot as well – for upending traditional marriage, for more legalized gambling, for gerrymandered congressional districts, and for special taxpayer-paid tuition benefits for certain illegal aliens.
In sum, as we detail in our complaint, “Governor O’Malley used his official letterhead to reach out to Marylanders and ask them to vote for specific political candidates and for specific ballot questions.”
We are requesting an investigation and a hearing to review the matter. Now, again, to me this seems like a slam dunk case. I only hope the Maryland State Ethics Commission proves more capable than the House Ethics Committee at meting out justice.
I will keep you posted on the commission’s response.
Until next week…
Judicial Watch is a non-partisan, educational foundation organized under Section 501(c)(3) of the Internal Revenue code. Judicial Watch is dedicated to fighting government and judicial corruption and promoting a return to ethics and morality in our nation’s public life.