WASHINGTON - The government watchdog group, Judicial Watch, has filed a lawsuit against the US Air Force to obtain records of a trip made by First Lady Michelle Obama to Southern Africa in June.
The group is questioning whether the trip, which included a meeting with Nelson Mandela and an African Safari, was necessary.
According the U.S. Postal Service records, Judicial Watch’s FOIA request was received by the Air Force on July 6, 2011. A response to the request was due within 20 working days, or by August 3, 2011. As of August 19, 2011, the date of the complaint, the Air Force has failed to produce the records requested or respond with a date they will be forthcoming.
The professed purpose of Mrs. Obama’s trip was to encourage young people living in South Africa and Botswana to get involved in national affairs. The First Lady’s remarks focused on education, health, and wellness issues. However, accompanied by her daughters Malia and Sasha, her mother, Marian Robinson, and her niece and nephew, Leslie and Avery Robinson, the trip also included such tourist events as visits to historical landmarks and museums as well as a visit with Nelson Mandela, described by Mrs. Obama as “surreal”. The trip ended with a private family safari at a South African game reserve before the group returned to Washington on June 27.
Judicial Watch is investigating the total cost of the trip to the taxpayers in the face of a ballooning federal debt and a sinking economy. As stated in an analysis by White House Dossier (the blog of White House reporter Keith Koffer, who writes for CongressDaily, National Journal, Roll Call and Politico), the cost to taxpayers for the C-32 was $430,000 alone. This cost is based on an estimated charge of $12,723 an hour, which is what the Department of Defense charges other federal agencies for use of the aircraft. If a military cargo plane was included – which typically accompanies a First Lady – the cost of transportation could have escalated by another $200,000.
Other costs, such as Secret Service protection, the care and feeding of staff, and pre-trip advance work done by administration officials in Africa, cannot be determined without examining records.
“How much did the American people spend to send the First Lady on a family outing in Africa? That’s what we want to know,” said Judicial Watch President Tom Fitton. “On the surface, the trip seems to have been totally unnecessary and was as much an excuse for the Obama family to go on a safari as it was a mission intended to advance the nation’s business in Africa.”
Previously, Judicial Watch uncovered that the First Couple’s 2009 “date night” trip to New York for dinner and a Broadway show cost taxpayers over $11,000 in Secret Service costs alone.