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Wednesday, May 23, 2007
Update: Silence on the Hill
Despite outrage from a lot of you about members of Congress using military planes for their overseas spring breaks, there seems to be precious little reaction from the people who can actually stop it: Congress.

The morning after our report aired I flew to Washington to turn a follow-up story, expecting the usual outrage from members of Congress who thought we treated them unfairly. Instead I got silence.

Congressman Bennie Thompson's office didn't complain about our report on his trip to Mexico and the Virgin Islands. Congressman Eliot Engel's office didn't call about his trip to Trinidad and Tobago. All done, mind you, on expensive and luxurious military charter planes.

Then, as I was chewing down my salad in the basement of the Cannon House Office Building, just about 11 a.m., came the call from Barney Frank's office.

Congressman Frank had the most expensive flight as far as I can tell. And judging by House rules about using military planes, he violated both of them. He flew to London and Brussels with just two other members of Congress (you are supposed to have five) and he took no Republicans (the trips are supposed to be bi-partisan).

Estimated cost of just the flight: $160,000. He and the whole group could have flown commercial business class for about half the cost.

His press secretary was really mad, but I couldn't really tell why. Basically, it seems, the anger was because I actually told you about that trip.

In any event, I was there to do the follow-up and I asked again if the press secretary or perhaps the congressman himself would like to go on camera. My crew and I were ready. I was told we'll get right back to you. Then I was told could you do it later today. Then I was told how about tomorrow morning.

Last night I was told there would be no interview. There was no explanation. I asked for a statement. I'm still waiting for a statement.

In the meantime, I plan to keep pressing on why so many trips are being taken on military charters.

--By Drew Griffin, CNN Correspondent
Posted By CNN: 4:22 PM ET
  23 Comments
Hey, Drew!

Re your follow up on the use of military planes--do you feel you got YOUR money's worth? Our government doesn't care who you are, they like to waste, period.

Hopefully you managed to get something beneficial done before you had to leave. Annoying isn't it? I wish someone had the answers to all the questions we've had over the years as it doesn't seem possible to find someone who will do an honest job without a watch dog.

Maggie
Posted By Maggie, GVMO : 5:02 PM ET
Hi Drew,
So you got the boot on the scoop. I can honestly say I've never heard of dodgeball played so well by all of our politicians. It proves to me once again, whether you are a Republican or Democrat or Indy, that there's no shortage of people who will abuse their standing in life. Perhaps, it's time that those flying the friendly skies on our dime should be grounded by insufficient funds. Take Care
Posted By Lorie Ann, Buellton, Calif : 5:21 PM ET
Good job, Drew. But maybe we shouldn't be surprised. Didn't Tom DeLay head a "congressional delegation" to UK to hear Magaret Thatcher's cold war stories and play golf at St. Andrews? Congress would not be so wasteful and corrupt if they were to spend their OWN money. Instead, it's just you, me and other ordinary taxpayers funding their luxury. What makes people not cynical about politians?
Posted By Charleton, Cambridge, MA : 5:27 PM ET
Drew,

Look at the calendar. It is what, 17 months until the next election? None of these guys is running for President (yet), so they figure the public will have short memories and that the press will move on to something else. If they sit tight, things will blow over. And it will, unless there is continued pressure for Congress members to explain their actions. Keep the pressure on. But in a nice way of course.
Posted By Charlotte D, Stockton CA : 5:30 PM ET
Hey Drew,
Isn't that the way it always is? They are treating you like a snitch!
I am so dissappointed with the democrats pulling this stunt at the tax~payers expense.
Can you imagine what politicians get away with that we never find out about? I've heard some inside capitol hill tales that never became public. Whoa!
Wouldn't you have more respect for these poloticians, now that they have been caught with their hands in the cookie jar, if they would just apologize and stop using voters for a luxury vacation ticket?
Instead, they want to cover it up and not talk!
Don't let them get to you Drew. Hang tough and keep them honest!
Good job! Keep being the messenger~
To those politicians using military planes for spring break travel: BAD Democrat, BAD, BAD!
Posted By Betty Ann, Nacogdoches,TX : 5:36 PM ET
I dunno - when it comes to wasting money, I'm a little more concerned about the billions we're burning daily in the Iraqi moneypit than the tens or even hundreds of thousands Congress spends flying around to swank spots.

It's kind of like worrying about a dripping faucet when your house is burning down.
Posted By Arachnae, Sterling VA : 5:40 PM ET
And the silent arrogance is surprising because? Our elected politicians are laughing their way into their military jets taking excursions to God knows where while our tax dollars continue to pay for their waste as well as the deaths of thousands of our soldiers in Iraq. Yet, we continue to elect these professional politicians/moochers to office. If we do the same thing expecting different results it's not likely to happen. I wonder how arrogant they would be when asked to be accountable for the lives lost in Iraq (they voted for the thing and bowed down to pressure so that this disaster area can go on indefinitely)? They'd probably blame "W" again as they wormed their way out of responsibility once again. However, since ethics seem to have gone by the wayside in DC, human life apparently doesn't seem to matter either.

Keep trying to hold them to something. Maybe one day we'll get lucky, and they'll admit they were wrong. And maybe a herd of purple elephants will fly South for the winter, too.
Posted By Tammy C., Berwick, LA : 6:10 PM ET
There is so much corruption going on that the public just can't process it at all. It becomes a matter of priorities, and right now misusing planes isn't a priority. So Congress can safely ignore it.

My 2 senators have stopped responding to me at all. They don't respond to my letters, emails, or voicemails, and I never get to talk to anyone who knows anything about any topic on the phone.

So, what's left? 2008. I see no other option.
Posted By Kevin, Lawrence KS : 6:23 PM ET
Don't hold your breath waiting for a comment, or expecting congress to change their behavior. I am seriously considering voting against EVERY incumbent unless serious change happens in our government.
Posted By Nestor, Austin, TX : 6:27 PM ET
Thanks Drew for aggravating our elected officials. I would be happy if we could get rid of all the cheatin' kind and elect government officials with integrety.
Posted By Judy Stage Brooklyn MI : 6:46 PM ET
Dear Drew,
My question to you is, are you willing to remain there and keep demanding answers or are you going to leave after a few atempts to get these answers? if you are not prepared to really get under their skin like a bad rash that wont go away you may as well pack up and return home. They know all to well how to avoid answering questions, they need someone who can stir up a storm. Good Luck.
Posted By Valerie, Hesston KS : 6:58 PM ET
Drew:

I hope you don't feel like you are beating your head against the wall.

Do you ever feel like once the elected official gets to DC they lose prospective from the people? The buildings, the massive amount of art collections, people waiting on them hand and foot, aides running around like a wild fire, and parties night after night.

Many Americans fail to realize the power of a free press in America. Your reports were compelling and those associated with this issue are probably down right upset. You busted them! They thought they could get away with this action. How much did they expense at the resorts in St. John for entertainment? The voters will remember these actions for sure!

As far as your word on the pension issue, this is a hard one. Remember Congress has a hard time hold themselves accountable. This is why the press is so important. Your work is honorable and we appreciate it.

There was an interesting Editorial on May 21, 2007 in the St. Petersburg Times -- google Protection for Press & St. Petersburg Times, FL when you have a minute. The Editorial backs the need for a free press in a democracy. Many Americans take this for granted.

Be well and stay remain focused on these important issues.
Posted By Renee Bradenton, FL : 7:17 PM ET
Hi Drew, Well that's a few days of your life you can't get back. Don't you hate when that happens? Maybe you could send over McGruff, the crime fighting dog whose motto is "Take a bite outta crime." Or in this case, "white collar crime," if it qualifies as so. Or, how about a brief, Michael Moore-type expose film and set it to "Leaving on a Jet Plane?" No? Well okay then, hope you do find the answers you're seeking.
Posted By Carol B., Frederick, MD : 7:55 PM ET
Dear Drew,

Barney Frank's press secretary got mad at you because you were "keeping them honest?" Neither Congressman Frank, nor his press secretary have the right to be mad at anyone, but themselves! We, the taxpayers, should be the only ones getting mad!

I guess the other members of Congress guilty of this same offense realized that they had no defense for their actions. Sometimes silence speaks louder than words.

Your reports regarding this issue have been outstanding, and I am glad to hear that you will continue to press these legislators about their unethical use of military charters at the expense of the taxpayers.

Keep up the great work; I really appreciate it!

Jo Ann
Posted By Jo Ann Matese, North Royalton, Ohio : 8:00 PM ET
If I had to take a wild guess, "Drew" never served in the military nor ever worked for the government. There are other, and yes, more important considerations with respect to sending members of Congress overseas, than the cost in dollars of doing so. If I have to explain that further, then clearly you'd never get it in any case.
Hi Drew,

Thanks for the followup report. Since we the people are paying for these absurd trips, what can we do since they did violate the rules? There must be a consequence for their actions or why even bother having those rules of having a minimum number of passengers and that it must a bi-partisan flight.
Posted By Missy, Los Angeles, CA : 8:15 PM ET
Good for you. Keep their feet to the fire until they cry uncle, then do it some more. We work and sweat to make money so they can waste it living the high life. Disgusting.
Posted By Pat, Moore, OK : 11:10 PM ET
It doesn't really sound like that much, even tho it seems lavish and unecessary . Id rather have the media report on and expose the millions (or possibly billions) in welfare fraud, insurance fraud and social services, especially medical care given free to illegal immigrants in our US hospitals.
Posted By r curtain - beloit, wi : 3:09 AM ET
I once heard a light-hearted comment from a well-known senator on late-night TV about a recent "fact finding" trip to Estonia. I believe Vodka with Hillary was the highlight.
Posted By Schuyler Deerman : 3:54 AM ET
I am glad congress has nothing better to do than take vacations on my Tax dollars. I can not believe the American public would want these elected officials to spend their own money on gas with the way they have allowed gas companies to steal from the public with these prices.
Why are so many people complaining about these trips? Didn't they elect these officials to office, they represent the public.
These officials get to fly free on our tax dollars for basically a vacation. Soldiers flying to war are put on planes, cramped because every seat is filled. Then they lay over in Europe some place, not allowed to get off the plane, no matter how long it sits on the ground. Then take off again to finally land, just to get on a smaller plane to fly into Iraq. Now these soldiers are flying this way for up to 18 hours with no comfort or luxuries of any kind. So tell me why Congress gets to spend my money to fly in luxury, what makes them so special. I could care less if they are Congressman and woman, they breath the same air, put pants on the same way, the only diference I see is I pay taxes and they do not.
I hope your reports have an effect and the public finally says enough and these officials can start earning their pay.
Posted By R.L. Fayetteville, NC : 8:57 AM ET
Please don't let up on this story!!Let the cameras roll and put it on Primetime! The Government should be made to account for wasteful spending.
Homeless Vets line the sidewalks as "military airplanes" fly overhead. $160,000 could go a long way in caring for them.
Thanks for keeping us informed.
Posted By Paula, Charlotte N.C. : 10:00 AM ET
Well now, what can one expect from a bunch of clowns that are trying to give amnesty and U.S. citizenship to 12 million people who violate our federal immigration laws.

Asking Congress to put a stop to this outrageous behavior and waste of taxpayer funds, is like hiring a nasty pit bull to baby-sit your 8 month old child. : )
Posted By Rollo Rogers, San Diego, CA : 4:25 PM ET
I love the idea from Carol of MD about a Michael Moores style expose. The only problem is Michael Moore would not voice any opposition to this as the most egregious abuse in this instance is from Democrat Barney Frank and his ilk er, um, party.
Posted By Cynthia, Albuquerque NM : 11:23 AM ET
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