GOP oversight chair asks Whitmer for details on Florida trip

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News
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Lansing — The Republican Michigan House Oversight Committee chairman has asked Gov. Gretchen Whitmer to answer more than 40 questions regarding her March 12-15 trip to Florida or face further investigation by the committee.

The 43-question letter inquiring about the flight, the purpose of the trip and arrangements made in Michigan while Whitmer was away is a "reasonable and important" request to give Michigan residents "certainty that their governor is following proper procedures and acting within the bounds of the law," wrote Rep. Steve Johnson, R-Wayland. 

Johnson asked for responses to his questions by May 27, the next meeting of the House Oversight Committee. 

Whitmer has been under scrutiny since April 19, when the trip came to light. It was later revealed the plane she took was owned by three of Michigan's most prominent political donors. The governor has said she was visiting her father, Richard, who lives in Florida and has a chronic illness. 

Whitmer's team said Thursday it had not yet received the letter but would review it upon receipt.

This twin-engine jet Gulfstream G280 owned by Air Eagle flew from Lansing to Palm Beach on March 12 and returned to Lansing on March 15. Whitmer's father, Richard, the retired CEO of Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan, owns a home in West Palm Beach.

Whitmer's administration said last week that a nonprofit organization that raised money for her inauguration primarily funded the private plane. Michigan Transition 2019, a social welfare nonprofit, chartered the private plane, according to an email memo from Whitmer's Chief of Staff JoAnne Huls. The group paid $27,521 for travel over the first 14 days of May, Huls disclosed.

Huls' memo indicates Whitmer paid the nonprofit $855 for her seat on the March 12 and March 15 flights and used a charter plane because of security concerns.  

The conservative group Michigan Rising Action filed a complaint with the Internal Revenue Service Wednesday over the flight, claiming the flight fell outside the tax-exempt purpose of the social welfare organization. 

The group offsets the governor's travel costs when "it's consistent with the account's purposes," Christopher Trebilcock, an attorney for Michigan Transition 2019, said earlier this week.

The Federal Aviation Administration said Monday it would be looking into the flight since Detroit-based Air Eagle, the company that owned the plane, doesn't have a certificate allowing for charter-type services. 

In his Thursday letter, Johnson asked how Whitmer made the decision to travel to Florida and why she chose a private flight instead of commercial or state-arranged transportation. The letter asks who, if anyone, accompanied Whitmer on the trip. 

The letter also inquires about the role Michigan Transition 2019 played in scheduling the flight and what other travel the nonprofit has paid for. Specifically, the letter asks whether Michigan Transition 2019 paid for the governor to attend President Joe Biden's inauguration, which Whitmer attended with her daughters. 

The letter asks when Whitmer became aware of the cost of the flight, when Michigan Transition 2019 was billed for the trip and if receipts or invoices are available. Johnson asked whether Air Eagle represented itself as a charter plane company. 

The letter also asks whether the trip had any state, personal or fundraising purposes and why the governor's office indicated the trip was two days when it spanned a four-day period.

Johnson inquired whether Lt. Gov. Garlin Gilchrist II was informed that he would be serving as acting governor and what arrangements were made for Whitmer's security. 

Lastly, the letter asks whether Whitmer was tested or vaccinated for COVID-19 ahead of the trip and whether she quarantined or was retested upon her return.

The governor received her doses of COVID-19 vaccine in mid-April and on April 29.

Staff Writer Craig Mauger contributed.

eleblanc@detroitnews.com

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