John Sununu's credibility is going downhill fast RTC

April 29, 1991|By Mike Royko | Mike Royko,Tribune Media Services

IT DIDN'T TAKE long for the White House to brush aside the snide questions about John "Frequent Flyer" Sununu's many trips on Air Force corporate-type jets.

As it turns out, the White House chief of staff wasn't gadding about for his own pleasure or political benefit.

Just about every time the pilot switched on the engines, at a minimum hourly cost of $4,000 to taxpayers, Sununu was roaring away on some important and essential official business.

We know this because the White House has released documents showing that of 77 trips made by Sununu in the government jets, only four were for personal reasons.

The rest of the time, he was traveling in his official capacity as a big cheese in the White House, or on a political mission, for which the Republican Party reimbursed the government with the price of a commercial airline ticket.

The official purposes of his trips shows what an awesome responsibility it is to be a big cheese in the White House.

For example, in December of 1989, Sununu had to fly to Vail, Colo., on an official mission to make a speech to a group of people from Ski magazine.

It must have been a long speech, since he stayed there several days.

The following December, he went on another official mission to Aspen, Colo., to again speak to a group of people from Ski magazine.

I find that reassuring, since a loyal and well-informed Ski magazine staff is essential to the security of our nation. One never knows when this country might be invaded by an army of slaloming Finns or Norwegians, so our ski patrols should be always on the alert.

It's been reported that while he was on those official missions, Sununu did some skiing. Undoubtedly, that was done to let the Ski magazine people know that he was personally prepared to lead an attack against any hostile Norwegians, which sure raises my morale.

According to the travel documents, Mrs. Sununu accompanied her husband on both official Ski Missions. But because she was not making a speech to the Ski magazine people, Mrs. Sununu paid $1,220, the commercial rate, for each trip. I'm impressed. She not only joins her husband on important missions, but she pays her own way. A loyal wife is a precious gift.

Sununu also made 16 official missions to his home state of New Hampshire. It wasn't explained what official White House

business he conducted in New Hampshire. Possibly that is classified. But he could have gone there to make sure the maple syrup was flowing. Or is it Vermont where maple syrup flows? Well, it's somewhere up there, and what would America's pancakes be like without maple syrup?

Whatever his 16 official missions to New Hampshire were for, they surely have set a record for New Hampshire missions by a White House chief of staff. And it's about time, I say. New Hampshire has been shamefully ignored by previous White House chiefs of staff. After all, New Hampshire is on the Canadian border and you never know when thosepeople might strap on their skis and come slaloming down on us in the dead of night. It's a geopolitical jungle out there.

As for his personal trips, not once did Sununu fail to pay for the use of the Air Force jets.

Once he went to New Jersey for a football game. He reimbursed the government $200.

Another time he flew from the Florida Keys to West Palm Beach. That was just a short hop so he paid only $167.

And the other two times, he flew to Boston to visit a dentist. He paid $420 a trip. That sounds steep to me, but I guess he flew both ways. You would think they'd give him a discount, though.

Of course, his critics are saying that it's all well and good that he paid $200 to jet to a football game, and that the Republican Party paid for his purely political trips. But it's conservatively estimated that all that flying around cost at least $800,000, and probably more if you include the crews' paychecks. And the government was reimbursed only $42,000 -- most of it from the GOP. Which still leaves more than $700,000 whooshing out of the jets.

That's what I call nit-picking. Sununu is a big cheese, a big heat, a top tamale. As the White House says, it is essential that he be capable of being in contact with the commander in chief at any given moment. So that's why he has to be on an Air Force corporate jet.

If that doesn't make sense, what does? It's worth every penny to know that when Sununu was soaring along at 15,000 feet on his way back from Vail or Aspen, the president could call him and say:

"John, how did the official Ski magazine mission go?"

RF "Don't worry, Mr. President, the Norwegians won't dare invade."

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