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GAO won't investigate Bush flight to aircraft carrier

Official cites 'questionable benefit' to public of broad review

President Bush waves from the cockpit after a Navy pilot landed the jet on the USS Abraham Lincoln.
President Bush waves from the cockpit after a Navy pilot landed the jet on the USS Abraham Lincoln.

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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Rejecting a request from irate Democrats, the General Accounting Office said it will not audit President Bush's visit to the USS Abraham Lincoln aircraft carrier two weeks ago.

In order to be "fair" and "non-partisan," U.S. Comptroller Gen. David M. Walker said any such review would also have to be performed on the actions of past presidents and members of Congress. And, in a letter dated Tuesday to lawmakers, he said it wasn't worth the effort.

"Furthermore, the requests that we have received would involve a significant commitment of resources with a questionable benefit to the public. As a result, in my view, it does not pass a cost-benefit test," said Walker, who was appointed to his post in 1998 by President Clinton.

Rep. Henry Waxman, D-California, had pressed for a "full accounting of the costs associated with the president's trip," asserting it had "clear political overtones" and should not be paid for by taxpayers.

In response to Waxman's letter, Rep. Mark Souder, R-Indiana, sent another request to the GAO -- the investigative arm of Congress -- asking for a broader look at other presidential travel.

On May 1, the president and several members of his staff flew out to the carrier, where Bush later delivered a nationally televised address announcing that the major combat stage of the Iraqi invasion had ended and the rebuilding process of the country had begun.

Waxman, like other Democrats, criticized the trip, especially the dramatic landing, as a campaign event for a president up for re-election in 2004.(Full story)

Democrats charged that the carrier was delayed a day coming into port so the president could give his speech at sea. Navy officials said the carrier was always scheduled to return May 2, and it did.

Waxman also questioned why Bush arrived in a Navy jet instead of a Marine or Navy helicopter.

White House officials said the Navy recommended the jet as the safest mode of travel to the aircraft carrier because it offered the option to eject if the aircraft missed the deck on its landing approach. White House officials had initially said that the carrier was too far out at sea for a helicopter landing, but they later said that was not the case.

The White House officials said there would have been a minimal cost difference between flying Bush onto the carrier on a jet and on a helicopter.(Full story)

Souder applauded the GAO decision and crowed that he had helped block a "partisan attack" on Bush. In a statement released by his office, Souder said, "Basically what we did was successfully stop a wasteful, partisan process that very well could have taken far more time and money than the actual event being investigated."

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