Special counsel Robert Mueller has had a rough week as his credibility has taken a substantial hit after a report revealed that an anti-Trump FBI agent was highly involved in key aspects of investigations into President Donald Trump and former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
Now more questions are emerging concerning Mueller's record, including his past use of government resources for personal travel when he was FBI director and his use of costly government resources for work-related travel that marked a significant departure from his predecessors.
Mueller’s past use of government resources for travel is relevant considering that Trump’s Health and Human Services Secretary Tom Price was forced to resign after an investigation by Politico revealed that Price took at least 24 flights on private charter planes at the expense of taxpayers to the tune of over $300,000 for work-related flights.
The Washington Post reported in 2007 that the FBI asked Congress for $3.6 million “in the war spending bill” to ensure that its $40 million Gulfstream V jet could continue to fly critical counterterrorism missions into Iraq:
But the jet that the FBI originally sold to lawmakers in the late 1990s as an essential tool for battling terrorism is now routinely used to ferry FBI Director Robert S. Mueller III to speeches, public appearances and field office visits.
In fact, Mueller's travel now accounts for nearly a quarter of the flight time for the lone FBI jet able to make international flights.
FBI officials acknowledged to The Washington Post that Mueller's use of the Gulfstream is a marked departure from the travel practices of his predecessors, such as Louis J. Freeh, who flew commercially or used a smaller Cessna Citation jet.
Sen. Charles Grassley (R-IA) slammed Mueller for misusing government resources and asked for an explanation from the FBI, but never received a response.
“Using this FBI jet to get to speaking engagements when the plane is intended to help fight terrorism is a good way to lose congressional approval of a necessary resource,” he said. “If the FBI wanted a jet to fly the director around, then it shouldn't try to justify the plane as a weapon in the war on terror.”
The Washington Times reported in 2013 that an investigation by the Government Accountability Office revealed Mueller used the FBI’s Gulfstream V jet for personal travel:
The bureau’s state-the-art, sleek Gulfstream V jets logged 60 percent of their hours between 2007 and 2011 on “non-mission flights” that cost taxpayers $11.4 million, according to an investigation by the Government Accountability Office obtained by the Washington Guardian.
The travel included 88 personal trips for Holder and former Republican Attorney General Michael Mukasey, who stepped down in 2009, and 10 for Mueller, the review found. Taxpayers were reimbursed only pennies on the dollar for those personal trips under the current rules, the audit found.
Mueller was added to a list of officials that were required to fly on government planes full-time — including for personal travel — but did so using the most expensive option possible:
The FBI, however, had a smaller Citation jet that was used for years to transport former FBI Director Louis Freeh on business trips, as well as a Haviland Dash 8 turboprop that other officials have used. Those are much cheaper to operate. But since 2007, those smaller aircraft were used only about a third of the time for Mueller, Holder and Mukasey, as the bureau opted for the larger, more luxurious Gulfstream counterterrorism jets for executive travel, the GAO found.
A key senator said Wednesday the diversion of the counterterrorism jets for everyday travel, especially personal trips, runs contrary to the purpose that Congress approved the aircraft and costs taxpayers needlessly when cheaper options are available.
The GAO found that the FBI’s Gulfstream V jet was only used approximately 40% of the time for its original intended purpose — counterterrorism missions — and during Mueller’s tenure as FBI director, the agency scrapped the economically efficient Citation jet in favor of the costlier and more luxurious Gulfstream V jet.
Grassley, who was then on the Senate Finance Committee, again called Mueller’s FBI out for the way that government resources were being wasted at the expense of taxpayers.
“They don’t have to travel in the Gulfstream if they’ve got Citations, particularly if it’s for personal use,” Grassley said “When you’re going to some private event or personal event, that’s unrelated to your government service, and you’re using these planes, you ought to take the cheapest method of travel you can.”
The Daily Mail noted that the GAO’s report indicated that the flights on the Gulfstream V jet — which cost $1,300 more per hour to operate than the Citation jet — cost taxpayers an average of $16,285 per flight. Based on that average, Mueller’s ten flights for personal travel cost taxpayers approximately $162,850 — of which Mueller only reimbursed taxpayers $4,556 or 2.79%.
Mueller's irresponsible spending is a relevant point to consider given the fact that he has spent nearly $7 million in taxpayer funds during the first four months of his investigation into possible collusion between the Trump campaign and Russian officials during the 2016 presidential election — an investigation that has yielded no results in terms of any collusion-related crimes committed by the campaign, during the campaign.
The Times report on Mueller’s personal travel using the FBI’s Gulfstream V jet also mentioned another costly and wasteful use of the taxpayer's money:
The FBI jets are kept at a secret location outside Washington and must be flown each time to Reagan National Airport to pick up Mueller and Holder. The cost of those brief transitional flights was $1.5 million between 2007 and 2011 — roughly 10 percent of the total cost of all their flights.
Grassley again slammed the former FBI director for the FBI’s reckless spending of taxpayer money for these “positioning flights” that the agency claims were needed.
“[This] show[s] the whole ridiculousness and the waste of money in this particular case,” Grassley said. “So you keep these planes hidden, someplace close to Washington, D.C., I assume. You fly them from there to Reagan to pickup the people who are going to fly, when car travel would save these millions of dollars that’s wasted.”