WASHINGTON -- More than one-third of the 77 trips for which White House Chief of Staff John H. Sununu used U.S. military aircraft during his 27 months on the job were taken to conduct political or personal business, according to documents released by White House yesterday.
The documents categorized 50 of the trips as official, 23 as political and four as personal. The records also show that the federal government was reimbursed $44,920, either by Mr. Sununu or by the Republican political group sponsoring his appearance -- with a few bills for his most recent travel still to be paid.
But the reimbursements are figured at only a fraction of the true cost of operating the C-20 military jets aboard which he most commonly flew. And his designation of a trip as official business -- and thus totally free to Mr. Sununu -- seems to have been applied broadly.
For example, the chief of staff took members of his family on four trips to ski resorts of several days each during the period, including two appearances at the Christa McAuliffe Ski Invitational in his home state of New Hampshire. All that travel was listed as official business because the chief of staff made at least one speech at each stop.
Reimbursements toward the airfare were provided only for the relatives who flew with him at a rate comparable to flying coach class aboard a commercial airliner, although the military service was faster, more direct and cost the taxpayers considerably more.
On a three-day trip to Aspen, Colo., in December, where Mr. Sununu gave two speeches to gatherings sponsored by the Times Mirror publishing group and Ski magazine, he paid the government $802 for his wife, Nancy, to accompany him.
But the cost of operating the 12-seat Gulfstream jet on which they were the only two passengers was $1,927 per hour at that time, according to the Air Force, for a journey that would take about four hours each way. Also, Pentagon flight records published Sunday in the Washington Post indicate that the crew waited for the Sununus in Grand Junction, Colo., adding to the overall cost.
Mr. Sununu, a three-term former governor of New Hampshire who is considered a potential candidate forthe U.S. Senate there, listed 22 trips for public appearances back home or in nearby Boston but called only five of them political.
The four flights designated by Mr. Sununu as strictly for personal business included two trips to his dentist in Boston, travel to a football game in Newark, N.J., and a visit to his parents in Key Largo, Fla.
President Bush and his chief of staff remained silent on the issue after three days of controversy over Mr. Sununu's travel habits, first reported Sunday in the Post and U.S.News and World Report.
But White House spokesmen continued to insist that Mr. Sununu is required to fly aboard military aircraft under a policy approved in 1987 by President Ronald Reagan.
Mr. Reagan endorsed the view advanced by Secretary of State George P. Shultz, who argued that the chief of staff and national security adviser must be within easy reach of the White House at all times in case of an emergency. Commercial aircraft do not afford the sophisticated communications equipment available on
military planes, Mr. Shultz contended in a memo to Mr. Reagan that was also released by the White House yesterday.
Mr. Sununu takes the communication policy seriously enough that he or an aide always carries a secure cellular telephone on which he can be reached almost anywhere, administration officials said.
But Mr. Sununu has put a lot more wear on the Air Force fleet than any of his predecessors, according to the Post account, and much more even than National SecurityAdviser Brent Scowcroft.
Travel records for Mr. Scowcroft also released by the White House yesterday show 23 trips aboard military planes during the same 27-month period, of which one was called personal: a ski trip to Utah with his daughter for which the government was reimbursed $1,052.
Most of the remaining Scowcroft trips were described as meetings with foreign officials, briefings for former presidents and travel to link up with Mr. Bush on his trips or vacations.