Media did not challenge claims by GOP staff about use of military aircraft
Research ››› ››› SARAH PAVLUS
In recent reports on the use of a military aircraft to fly House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) to and from her district, The Washington Times, Roll Call, and The Washington Post did not challenge assertions made by former and current aides to former House Speaker J. Dennis Hastert (R-IL) and the Republican leadership regarding Hastert's use of military aircraft when he was speaker. These anonymous aides claimed Hastert's staff and family only irregularly, "occasionally," "sometimes," or "at times" accompanied him on flights and did not address whether or not members of Hastert's state delegation ever flew with him:
- On February 1, The Washington Times reported: "A defense source said the speaker's regular access to a military plane began after the September 11, 2001, attacks. Rep. J. Dennis Hastert, Illinois Republican, who was speaker at the time, started using U.S. Air Force planes for domestic travel to and from his district for security reasons. A former Hastert aide said the congressman did not use military planes for political trips or regularly transport his family."
- Roll Call reported (subscription required) on February 5: "Despite the lack of clear restrictions on the plane's use, the [Republican] leadership aide said Hastert decided to use the plane solely for official business and not for political travel, which would have required reimbursements to the government of several thousand dollars per hour of use. Hastert sometimes traveled on the plane, which was described as relatively small, with other staff and occasionally his wife. "We would not use it for political business," said the leadership aide. "We would take corporate or commercial." The aide added that "[t]here were no clear rules."
- And on February 6, The Washington Post reported: "An aide in Hastert's office said yesterday that the former speaker used the plane for official business but not for political travel. He did at times transport his wife and staff when he was flying to and from Illinois."
However, in an October 6, 2006, article, The New York Times reported that Hastert's two top aides would travel back to Illinois with him "almost every weekend":
Mr. Hastert, a former schoolteacher and wrestling coach, is more at home in Illinois than in Washington, traveling back to the state almost every weekend with Scott Palmer, his chief of staff, and Mike Stokke, his deputy chief of staff. When Congress is in session, the two aides and Mr. Hastert share a townhouse near the Capitol, living a bachelorlike existence. The speaker once boasted that neither he nor his roommates had cooked a meal since 1986, preferring to dine out.
In a second article published three days later, the Times also reported that Hastert, Palmer, and Stokke would "fly back to Illinois most every weekend."
Additionally, in a column published the same day, Chicago Sun-Times Washington bureau chief Lynn Sweet indicated that Rep. John Shimkus (R-IL) accompanied Hastert on at least one military flight from Illinois to Washington, after Shimkus' staff received an "urgent call" from the Republican leadership requesting Shimkus' presence the next day at a Washington press conference on the Mark Foley scandal. At the time, Shimkus was the chairman of the House Page Board. From Sweet's column:
A week ago Sunday, about 8 p.m., Shimkus arrived at Scott Air Force Base near Belleville to pick up his ride back to Washington. As speaker, Hastert flies on U.S. aircraft. The government plane picked up Shimkus and then headed to Aurora to board Hastert, who spent the weekend at his Plano home. Hastert's team was scrambling in reaction to the escalating fallout from the Foley scandal. Shimkus was returning to the capital because his staff had gotten an urgent call earlier in the day from Hastert deputy chief of staff Mike Stokke, who wanted Shimkus at the press conference with Hastert, putting him on a national stage on their terms.
Although Roll Call quoted a Pelosi aide as saying, "We had the knowledge that Hastert had used [a military plane] for a retreat on one occasion," the paper did not address the apparent conflict with Republican claims that Hastert only sometimes transported his staff on the plane and did not use it for political purposes.