Maxine Waters among lawmakers accused of abusing privilege of air marshals on flights
Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., talks on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday, April 20, 2021, as she waits for the verdict to be read in the murder trial of former Minneapolis police Officer Derek Chauvin in the death of George Floyd. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
(FOX NEWS) – A program created after 9/11 to protect the flying public is being abused by Congress, according to an association representing federal air marshals, essentially creating, in their words, a VIP “concierge service” for members.
The Air Marshal National Council, which represents some of the nation’s roughly 2,000 air marshals, says the problem began after the Jan. 6 riot at the Capitol. Following that, some fearful lawmakers began requesting security — not just on Capitol grounds, but to and from their districts and even to vacation spots.
The Transportation Security Administration, which runs the Federal Air Marshal Service, began reassigning agents from “high risk” commercial flights to accompany members of Congress instead. This angered some sky marshals, as protecting the public is their primary mission. Capitol police, and when necessary the U.S. Secret Service, are tasked with protecting lawmakers. After 9/11, then-President George W. Bush gave the air marshals responsibility to protect the flying public, upping the number of agents from 33 to more than 4,000. Today, the program covers some 30,000 commercial flights a day.
“Air marshals can only be assigned to high-risk flights. That means flights that have been deemed through our vetted process that have a security risk,” said Sonya Hightower LoBasco, executive director of the Air Marshal National Council. “When these processes are violated and they’re taken advantage of and they are just tossed to the side now as if they don’t matter, we’re really looking into creating a major problem for ourselves in the aviation domain.”
Some of the traveling lawmakers already have security details, while others who requested the service skipped their scheduled flights, according to records reviewed by Fox News, which was also told that lawmakers from both parties used the service – sometimes on official business, other times for personal travel.
LoBasco submitted a formal congressional ethics complaint about one such flight involving Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., who flew from Washington, D.C., to Minneapolis on April 17 to attend the trial of former police officer Derek Chauvin. LoBasco says Waters was already accompanied by two armed Capitol Police and two U.S. Secret Service agents when she allegedly requested two air marshals and two more marshals on touchdown to escort her in the airport.