Michigan Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer, whose poll numbers continue a downward slide over her handling of the COVID crisis, faces new questions after it was learned an outside entity has paid for her use of a private jet owned by influential businessmen to visit her father in Florida during the lockdown.
Whitmer aides have carefully stated repeatedly that no taxpayer dollars were used to pay for the chartered flights, which occurred during a period she was discouraging Michigan residents to stay in their homes because of COVID and while emergency rules kept families from visiting hospitalized loved ones.
“It’s been 62 days since the secret trip. The story from the governor’s office keeps changing,” said GOP Communications Director Ted Goodman. Previously the governor has said she paid for the flight out of her own pocket. Now, her office admits, she only paid for her seat, leaving others to cover the rest of the expense.
No one is yet suggesting Whitmer broke any laws by taking the $28,000 trip which is becoming a continuing political embarrassment. According to several sources, the flights were paid for by a social welfare not-for-profit group – Michigan Transition 2019 – to handle expenses related to her 2019 gubernatorial inauguration. In general, the use of funds by politicians coming from groups designated 501c(4) by the U.S. Internal Revenue Service to cover expenses like non-official travel is generally frowned upon.
Complicating matters more, the Detroit Free Press published Monday a report revealing Air Eagle, LLP – the air travel company operating the plane Whitmer used to visit her father in Florida – is not authorized by the Federal Aviation Administration to offer charter flights. Agency spokesman Elizabeth Isham Cory told the paper companies seeking to operate such flights must have a Part 135 certificate.
“The Gulfstream G280 Whitmer’s office confirmed she flew on ‘is not on a 135 certificate and Air Eagle does not have a Part 135 certificate,’” the Free Press reported, citing an email from Cory.
Whitmer and her staff have repeatedly attempted to tamp the scandal down by asserting extraordinary accommodations must be made to keep her safe because of threats made against her in the last year. “I have received an incredible number of death threats over the last year and a half. There are a lot of reasons we don’t discuss how I travel and when I travel,” the governor previously said.
This is not the first incident to raise questions about Whitmer’s management of state affairs during the pandemic. Michigan First Husband Marc Mallory reportedly tried to have his boat placed in the water before Memorial Day weekend in 2020 in violation of what some called “the most draconian stay-at-home orders in the nation.”
Her apparent fall from grace may not be as precipitous as New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s but it is just as self-inflicted. Before last summer’s BLM riots, Whitmer was believed to be atop Joe Biden’s list of potential running mates. Now she finds herself peppered with questions about why she went to Florida unvaccinated despite the number of times she expressed concern that residents there were not taking proper safety precautions and bringing the virus to Michigan. As issues of this sort mount, strategists in both parties are wondering how vulnerable she’ll be when seeking a second term in November 2022.
Peter Roff is a former U.S. News & World Report contributing editor now affiliated with several Washington, D.C. public policy organizations. He appears regularly as a commentator on the One America News network. Reach him by email at [email protected] Follow him on Twitter @PeterRoff.