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Bridge Michigan
Michigan’s nonpartisan, nonprofit news source

Gov. Whitmer says Florida trip wasn’t ‘gift,’ stays mum on who paid for plane

whitmer
(Bridge file photo)

June 7: Michigan Republicans seek campaign finance probe of Whitmer trip to Florida
June 2: GOP to governor: Tell us when you leave Michigan. Whitmer: Stop wasting time.
May 27: Whitmer campaign, not shadow nonprofit, now paying for Florida flight

LANSING— Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer on Wednesday continued to provide few details about her visit to Florida to see her father, except to say her flight was “not a gift.”

Speaking to reporters, Whitmer wouldn’t say who funded the trip, which Bridge Michigan and other news outlets have reported was in March to Florida on a private jet when she wasn’t fully vaccinated. Around that time, her administration discouraged people from traveling to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“I took a brief trip from a Friday to a Monday. Two full days I was there,” Whitmer said Wednesday. “It was not a vacation.”

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Previously, her office had said the governor’s trip was “two full days or less.”

Whitmer has refused to share the dates of her trip, citing security concerns and death threats against her over the past year. Her public calendar lists events on every weekday and every Sunday in March, except on March 13-14.  

 

Flight records show a twin-engine business jet leaving from Lansing’s Capital Region International Airport for Palm Beach, Florida, on March 12 and returning March 15. Whitmer’s father, Richard Whitmer, owns a condominium in West Palm Beach, records show.

That jet is registered to Air Eagle LLC, which has the same Detroit address as PVS Chemicals, whose chair is James B. Nicholson. 

The aircraft is co-owned by his family and two prominent Detroit-area families: the Cotton family, the former owners of Meridian Health, and the Moroun family, which owns the Ambassador Bridge from Detroit to Windsor.

Representatives for the Cottons and Morouns have said they weren’t aware of the use of the jet, while representatives for Nicholson have not publicly commented.

On Wednesday, Whitmer didn’t say who paid for the trip, only sharing that “this flight was not a gift, this flight was not paid for at taxpayers’ expense. I don't know that there's anything more to add.”

“Like a lot of children of parents who have health issues or relatives who have health issues, I showed up when I was needed,” said Whitmer, who is a Democrat. “I did a lot of cooking, a lot of cleaning. I also did my day job, meaning I was on regular calls and conferences with my team.”

Whitmer’s use of the term “gift” in describing the flight could refer to Michigan’s lobbying law, which bars public officials from soliciting or accepting “a gift or loan of money, goods, services, or other thing of value for the benefit of a person or organization, other than the state, which tends to influence the manner in which the public officer or employee or another public officer or employee performs official duties.”

All three families that jointly own the Air Eagle jet have business before the state of Michigan and are significant political donors.

Republicans have called Whitmer’s actions “hypocrisy.”

“The question isn't about who's plane this is,” said Ted Goodman, communications director of the Michigan Republican Party.

“The question is, what were the arrangements that the governor made on this trip? Did she strong-arm somebody in order to get access to that plane? These are questions we don't have answers for.” 

The news outlet Deadline Detroit, which first reported details of the trip, quoted an anonymous source who asserted that Whitmer approached one of the plane’s co-owners and asked to borrow the aircraft.

Whitmer has said her father has a chronic health condition and criticism of the trip is “maddening.”

“People are more focused on scoring political points than actually doing the work to keep people safe and to get our economy back on track,” she told the Washington Post in April during her most extensive comments about the trip.

Republicans also have criticized two other Whitmer officials — chief operating officer Tricia Foster and health director Elizabeth Hertel — for traveling to Florida and Alabama, respectively, as coronavirus cases climbed in Michigan.

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