The communications involved officials within the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) that handle Freedom of Information Act (FOIA) requests. Staffers at the said office actively consulted with other department officials when processing the requests. In addition, they discussed how to sort data, enabling them to avoid sharing taxpayer costs of Buttigieg's flights.
The revelation followed a December 2022 report by Fox News regarding Buttigieg's 18 trips on an FAA-managed fleet of executive aircraft. The said planes were reserved for government officials for occasions when flying commercial isn't feasible. The FAA is under the Department of Transportation (DOT), which Buttigieg heads.
Fox News then filed a FOIA request for detailed information and costs of all flights logged by FAA planes since early 2021. For months, the DOT's FOIA office repeatedly delayed providing the requested information – only to release it following the department's inspector general announcing a probe regarding Buttigieg's use of government aircraft. However, the documents omitted costs associated with flights carrying the secretary and his advisers.
This prompted Fox News to file a second FOIA request, asking for all internal communications related to the first request. The documents linked to this were turned over in September. Included in this tranche was a Jan. 20 email by Wil Riggins, vice president of the FAA's Flight Program Operations (FPO) office, to other DOT official regarding the request.
The exchanges discussed a possible loophole for the DOT to avoid sharing information, specifically the definition of flight costs in relation to the FOIA request. While multiple emails sent by Fox News for clarification on the omitted costs were ignored, internal communications proved that the issue was tackled offline. (Related: Emails show Weiss, DOJ colluded to SUBVERT congressional investigation on Hunter Biden case.)
The second tranche of documents also showed that Riggins intentionally delayed the DOT's response to the FOIA request for reasons unknown to lower-level FOIA managers. On Feb. 14, a senior advisor to Riggins arranged a phone call with FOIA manager Dean Torgerson who inquired about the delay. Days later on Feb. 27, Torgerson said he was advised that the "the deputy vice president can sign on behalf of the VP."
On the afternoon of Feb. 27, Torgerson was informed that Riggins had finally signed off on the records, allowing them to be shared with Fox News. The approval came minutes before the DOT announced its probe on Buttigieg.
"The FAA follows FOIA requirements and regulations, which include ensuring a complete response," the office said in a statement to Fox News. "We routinely provide internal notifications about FOIA updates and responses." Meanwhile, Riggins – who remains the most senior official in the FPO – did not respond to a request for comment.
"It's become increasingly clear that the Biden administration is engaging in purposeful political meddling to protect Buttigieg and hide the true cost of his taxpayer-funded private jet travel," said Caitlin Sutherland, executive director of government watchdog group Americans for Public Trust.
"They continue to willfully ignore public disclosure laws, confirming the unofficial motto of this administration: Rules for thee, but not for me."
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Watch this video about Transportation Secretary Pete Buttigieg being criticized for his inadequate response to the airport chaos months ago.
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