EXCLUSIVE: The Department of Transportation is dragging its feet on handing over Secretary Pete Buttigieg's government jet records, according to communications between government lawyers and a watchdog group.
The email communications, which were obtained by Fox News Digital, are part of an ongoing lawsuit filed by the group Americans for Public Trust (APT), which argues that the Federal Aviation Administration (FAA) has repeatedly missed deadlines and improperly delayed its processing of information requests related to Buttigieg's flight records. APT filed its first information request in November and two subsequent requests in January.
"It’s sadly ironic that the FAA is wasting taxpayer dollars by stonewalling our lawsuit for records about Pete Buttigieg wasting taxpayer dollars," Caitlin Sutherland, APT's executive director, told Fox News Digital.
"Despite repeated promises they would hand over records, and then missing those deadlines over and over, we now have proof that the FAA did not meaningfully work on our request until after we filed a lawsuit," she continued.
After APT filed its lawsuit in June, the group agreed to engage in a meet and confer conference with government lawyers led by Bradley Silverman from the Justice Department.
Communications from Silverman indicated that — while the FAA had told APT for months it was in the process of completing the information request — the FAA had never actually started the process of producing responsive records. Instead, it was revealed that the agency had misled APT on the progress of the records request.
Additionally, Silverman communicated to APT that FAA believed APT's requests to be "unduly burdensome." According to APT, the FAA never told the group about its concerns before the lawsuit was filed.
As a result of the lawsuit, the FAA ultimately conducted the search and located 32 records. However, the FAA said it will not hand over the documents until approximately Oct. 31, nearly a year after the first request was made.
"After waiting for the better part of a year, we’ve now been told the FAA needs nearly 3 more months to review and produce just 32 pages documenting Pete Buttigieg’s private jet travel," Sutherland told Fox News Digital. "This raises serious concerns about the political meddling this administration is willing to engage in to hide the truth from the public."
APT's first request, filed in November, asked for all flight logs and passenger manifests of the three jets the FAA manages; the second request, filed on Jan. 9, asked for the FAA to identify every instance when a White House official, executive branch official or member of Congress used one of the jets; and the third request, filed two days later, extended the second to include any other FAA-managed jets.
Under the Freedom of Information Act, federal agencies are required to provide requested records within 20 working days, or 30 working days if an extension is determined to be necessary. The requesting party is allowed to pursue legal action if a court determines it has exhausted its administrative remedies.
In December, Fox News Digital reported that Buttigieg, a vocal proponent of sweeping climate measures, took at least 18 flights using the FAA's taxpayer-funded private jets between early 2021 and mid-2022. The report identified the flights using Buttigieg's internal calendar obtained by APT.
In one instance of his use of government-managed private jets, Buttigieg traveled roundtrip from Washington, D.C., to Las Vegas to promote public works projects in August 2021. In another example, Buttigieg used a jet to fly to multiple states — most of which have largely been considered swing states in elections — in August 2022 as part of a tour highlighting federal infrastructure grants.
Additional information obtained by Fox News Digital showed Buttigieg's senior advisers took five other flights on the jets without him.
The December report ultimately triggered the Department of Transportation's Office of the Inspector General to open an investigation into Buttigieg's use of the FAA fleet in late February.
"We welcome this independent audit moving forward in order to put some of the false, outlandish, and cynical claims about the Secretary’s mode of travel to rest. The fact remains that he flies commercially the vast majority of the time," a DOT spokesperson said at the time.