by Tom Fitton –
Michelle Obama Riverdances through Dublin, Helps Rack Up $7,921,638.66 Vacation Tab For Taxpayers
When it comes to tracking the cost of Obama family vacations there are two primary challenges. First, the Obamas are prolific jet-setters, so there are many details to track. And second, the Obama administration, clearly embarrassed by these lavish and frequent family vacations, stonewalls the release of records at every turn.
But we have been relentless in pursuit of this information. Our attorneys file the lawsuits and make our case, and our investigators pour through pages of records and crunch the numbers. And the information we’ve uncovered – information that would otherwise remain under lock and key – shows that the Obamas have a disturbing lack of regard for taxpayer resources.
Most recently, when reviewing the Obama family travel log, Judicial Watch recently obtained records from the U.S. Department of the Air Force and the U.S. Department of Homeland Security revealing that President Obama’s June 2013 trip to Belfast, Ireland, including a Dublin sightseeing side trip by Michelle Obama, her daughters, and her entourage, cost the taxpayers $7,921,638.66. (Per usual, and owing to the enormous public interest in Michelle Obama’s luxury travel, our discovery earned quite a bit of press coverage.)
Here’s the breakdown from the two agencies.
• According to the Department of Air Force documents, the flights to, from, and around Ireland for the June 17 – 19, 2013 trip totaled 33.6 hours at $228,288 an hour, which comes to a flight expense alone of $7,670,476.80 (These records came in response to a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information lawsuit filed on January 13, 2014.)
• According to the DHS documents, the total cost for “security and/or other services” for the Dublin side-trip by Michelle Obama and her entourage was $251,161.86, including $55,004.85 at the Shelbourne Hotel and $70,855.44 at the Westbury Hotel. Vehicle rental charges were $114,721. (These records also came in response to a Judicial Watch Freedom of Information lawsuit filed on January 13, 2014.)
Now I can hear the White House’s defense. This was a business trip. It’s all about diplomatic relations, etc., etc. And while this might at times be true for the president, it is certainly not true for the other members of the First Family.
For example, after accompanying the president to a meeting with Northern Ireland youth on the morning of June 17, the First Lady, her daughters, and her entourage departed on their own, apparently aboard Air Force Two, for a sightseeing side-trip to Dublin. Though the White House claimed the trip was for diplomatic purposes, WhiteHouseDossier.com reported that the itinerary showed, “She and her daughters will visit the Trinity College library to explore President Obama’s Irish family roots, attend a performance by the world-famous Riverdance troupe, and visit the Wicklow Mountains national forest.”
Yes, someday we will all hail Michelle Obama’s grand diplomatic accomplishments during her “Riverdance Summit of 2013.”
And purpose of the trip aside, is it really necessary for the First Lady to drop $3,300 per night on her hotel suite for any reason at all when taxpayers are picking up the tab?
Because that’s exactly what her Dublin suite cost per The Washington Times: “First lady Michelle Obama is sparing no expense on her trip to Ireland, staying at a $3,300-per-night hotel suite in Dublin. Irish press reports Monday said Mrs. Obama and her entourage have booked 30 rooms in the five-star Shelbourne hotel. The first lady is said to be staying in the Princess Grace Suite …. ” According to the hotel’s website, the Grace Kelly Suite features two guest bedrooms, a living room, and a dining area, and measures 1,530 square feet. More space for riverdancing, I suppose.
And the Obama entourage? Well they followed the First Lady’s lead and spared no expense either.
The Secret Service documents obtained by Judicial Watch reveal that members of the Obama entourage also rented rooms at Dublin’s Westbury Hotel. The hotel’s website describes the “glamorous, iconic 5 star” Westbury as, “a great social hub and Dublin’s ultimate city address.” The Daily Mail estimated the cost of Michelle Obama’s the two-day trip to Ireland, in addition to flight and security costs obtained by Judicial Watch, at around $5 million.
The American people can see through the “official business” lie used by the White House to justify the cost of this trp. The Obamas’ clearly abused the perk of the president’s official trip to the G-8 summit for a luxury European vacation at taxpayer expense. And this is far from the first time.
In February, Judicial Watch reported that the Obamas incurred $1,164,268.60 in flight expenses alone for the August 2013 family vacation to Martha’s Vineyard, Massachusetts. In March, Judicial Watch released flight expense records from the U.S. Department of the Air Force revealing that the Obamas incurred $8,104,224 in flight expenses for their June to July 2013 official trip to Africa, and $7,781,361.30 for their 2013-2014 Christmas vacation to Honolulu – for a two-trip total of $15,885,585.30 in flight expenses alone. These numbers may seem astonishing, but remember they only skim the surface of the true costs of these trips.
As you know, we’ve had to scratch and claw for these records. The Obamas love to wax philosophical about the subject of transparency, but when it comes to covering up their abuse of taxpayer resources their secrecy knows no bounds.
Holder’s Meltdown Speaks Volumes
If anyone had doubts as to just how much contempt Attorney General Eric Holder has for the institution of Congress (pun intended), those doubts dissipated this week when Holder became unhinged during a heated exchange with Rep. Louis Gohmert (R-TX) in his testimony before Congress.
Fox News described the exchange:
Attorney General Eric Holder got into a heated argument with a Republican congressman Tuesday over the still-pending contempt case against him.
Holder was testifying before the House Judiciary Committee when Rep. Louie Gohmert, R-Texas, began pressing him for documents in a separate investigation. Gohmert brought up an apparent sore spot, referencing the 2012 House vote finding Holder in contempt of Congress.
“I realize that contempt is not a big deal to our attorney general, but it is important that we have proper oversight,” Gohmert said.
A visibly annoyed Holder said: “You don’t want to go there, buddy.” Leaning back in his chair, he added, “You don’t want to go there, okay?”
“I don’t want to go there?” Gohmert responded.
Holder went on to say that the congressman “should not assume that that is not a big deal to me.”
“I think that it was inappropriate and it was unjust, but never think that was not a big deal to me. Don’t ever think that,” Holder said, pointing his finger.
Two quick observations: First, there is simply no excuse for the nation’s highest law enforcement officer, even if pushed, to refer to a member of Congress as “buddy” or “pal” like a playground bully scrounging for lunch money. That may be the “Chicago Way” but it is entirely inappropriate. And second, whenever I see a politician point his finger to emphasize a point, it’s impossible not to think of Bill Clinton and his “I did not have sexual relations with that woman” moment. Or Richard Nixon’s “I am not a crook speech.” Finger pointing, as we have seen time and time again, is usually done by people who have something to hide.
And Eric Holder has much to hide.
Holder is at the center of one of the most serious scandals of the Obama administration, “Operation Fast and Furious,” where weapons were allowed to “walk” across the border by our government and into the hands of Mexican drug cartel members. One of those weapons wound up at the crime scene of murdered Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry, precipitating public outrage and congressional investigations. Countless Mexican citizens, by Holder’s own admission, will also be shot and killed by weapons supplied by his Justice Department’s gun-running operation.
Holder’s attempts to obstruct justice in the investigation of Fast and Furious were the reason for the attorney general’s contempt citation and for his embarrassing exchange with Rep. Gohmert. (Holder continued his political haranguing at a conference run by the infamous race-hustler Al Sharpton the day after his testimony.)
As Rep. Gohmert pointed out, if Holder had any respect at all for the institution of Congress, or any sincere regret over the contempt citation, he would begin cooperating and release the records that will help us to unravel one of the most shameful chapters of Holder’s tenure.
But he won’t. Because he can’t. To release those records is to prove his guilt. He knows it. We know it. Congress knows it. And so does the president, who made a desperate effort to protect Holder by claiming Fast and Furious records were protected by executive privilege, which they are not.
Judicial Watch, for its part, will not be intimated. We will “go there” until justice is done. We have sued the Obama administration repeatedly for Fast and Furious records. And we continue to expose the administration’s stonewalling and lies and educate the American people. In fact, Fast and Furious was covered extensively in our hard-hitting documentary District of Corruption, in which, in a nice coincidence, Congressman Gohmert appears. (Click here to get your DVD copy for the story Holder isn’t telling.)
The American people have had enough lying. Enough excuses. Enough go-nowhere congressional investigations tainted by politics. Enough finger pointing. They want answers. And that is what we are trying to deliver.
Holder is Obama’s protector on Benghazi, the IRS scandal, and many other scandals. And he’s abused his office for the political benefit of his leftist allies. Americans concerned about honest government should support our efforts to hold Holder to account.
Judicial Watch Files Taxpayer Suit to Stop Double-Dipping Judges
Judicial Watch uses the courts to try to enforce the rule of law and battle corruption. But, as our name suggests, we also “watch” the courts. We are fearless in an area where many fear to tread – judicial corruption. This issue is front and center in a new lawsuit we filed last week in Los Angeles.
It should go without saying that judicial compensation should be paid in strict accordance with the law. This is common sense, yes? The men and women given the privilege of adjudicating the law should be subject to the law.
But that’s not what’s happening in Los Angeles County where double-dipping judges are receiving perks and benefits in violation of the law and hurting taxpayers in the process. If you’ve been reading my Update for a while, you know this is a battle we’ve been fighting since 2006. We’ve kept this on the front burner because it represents such an egregious abuse, one that must be stopped.
And this is a message we sent yet again on April 1, 2014, when we filed a lawsuit in the Superior Court for the State of California, County of Los Angeles, on behalf of Los Angeles taxpayer Harold P. Sturgeon, asking that the court declare unlawful the continued payment of “supplemental judicial benefits” to Los Angeles County superior court judges. The suit also asked that the court issue a permanent injunction prohibiting Los Angeles County from expending taxpayer funds for these “supplemental judicial benefits.”
Los Angeles County has paid “supplemental judicial benefits” and taxpayer-funded perks to judges in the county since before 1998.
Let’s pause for a moment and answer the obvious question: What exactly is a “supplemental judicial benefit”? Simply put, these benefits are compensation above and beyond the compensation provided by the California state government.
In fact, according to the California State Constitution, the state is responsible for compensating Los Angeles County judges, including both salary and benefits. But above and beyond the compensation packages provided by the state, per the state Constitution, Los Angeles County has been unlawfully providing duplicative benefits to these judges at taxpayer expense! Perks like “professional development allowances” and “cafeteria plans.”
And what is the cost of all of these perks? This will shock you. The “double-dipping” by the trial court judges cost Los Angeles County taxpayers an estimated $24.6 million per year in 2013 alone! According to the lawsuit:
In 2013, Defendants paid approximately $57,487 in “supplemental judicial benefits” to each of the approximately 429 judges of the Superior Court. This included approximately $33,970 in ‘cafeteria plan’ benefits, approximately $15,600 in retirement benefits, and a $7,917 ‘professional development allowance.’ … In 2013 alone, the cost of these benefits to County of Los Angeles taxpayers was at least approximately $24,661,923.
Let me repeat. That is, in effect, a $57,487-per-judge, taxpayer-funded bonus above what these judges are already receiving for compensation from the State of California. As you might imagine, other judges in the state who don’t receive these illicit benefits resent this abuse in Los Angeles.
Our taxpayer lawsuit asks the court to prohibit Los Angeles County “from continuing to expend taxpayer funds or taxpayer-financed resources to pay for these ‘supplemental judicial benefits.'” Specifically, the suit seeks to have the “double-dipping” declared illegal and an injunction to stop further payments.
As I say, we began the fight against “supplemental judicial benefits” and taxpayer-funded perks to trial court judges in Los Angeles County in the spring of 2006, when we filed our first “citizen-taxpayer” lawsuit on behalf of Mr. Sturgeon seeking to have the payments declared unlawful. Following a trial court ruling upholding the payments, Judicial Watch appealed.
In 2008, a California Court of Appeals reversed the ruling, declaring the benefits unconstitutional under Article VI, Section 19 of the California Constitution because they had not been “prescribed” by the Legislature.
In 2009, Los Angeles County and the judges hired lobbyists to successfully push the California Legislature to pass a bill temporarily authorizing the county payment on an interim basis until a comprehensive response to the first Sturgeon lawsuit could be enacted. To date, the Legislature has failed to establish a comprehensive response. And that is why we are in court yet again.
Here’s our bottom line: For Los Angeles County to continue to pay judges $24.6 million a year – over and above the salaries and benefits they already receive from the State of California and without proper authorization from the Legislature – violates California’s constitution and is an abuse of the taxpayers’ trust. The fact that a second lawsuit had to be filed to enforce the law against abuse by judges is a scandal.
Tom Fitton – President