Braudis: White trip unofficial | AspenTimes.com

Braudis: White trip unofficial

Brent Gardner-Smith
Aspen Times Staff Writer

A special agent with the U.S. Army told Pitkin County Sheriff Bob Braudis that Secretary of the Army Thomas White’s recent trip to Aspen would be “unofficial,” which contradicts the Army’s description of the trip.

White’s trip to and from the Aspen area in an Army Gulfstream jet the first weekend in March has spurred the Pentagon’s Inspector General to open an investigation into the Secretary’s travels.

While in Aspen, White, a former Enron senior executive, attended to the sale of one of his two Aspen slopeside properties and apparently conducted no official business. He is also under scrutiny by members of Congress for his dealings with Enron.

“Two gentleman with the Army’s security division came in to advise me that the Secretary of the Army would be arriving March 1 and staying until March 4,” said Braudis. “They said this was an unofficial visit and that they didn’t have a plan for White during his stay.”

That’s in stark contrast to how Major General Larry Gottardi, a public affairs specialist with the Secretary’s office, described the trip.

“His trip from start to finish, all legs of the trip, and the means of transport he used between each, was reviewed and deemed appropriate by both Army and Department of Defense officials,” Gottardi said. “From start to finish it was approved as official travel and is completely legal in all respects.”

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Secretary White was in Dallas for an Army ceremony on March 1. He then flew in an Army Gulfstream jet with “United States of America” on the side toward Aspen, but was diverted to Grand Junction by snowy weather.

“The aircraft came in here, and they were on board,” said Charlie Novinskie, the public information officer for Walker Field Airport in Grand Junction. “They landed here, got in vehicles and drove off.”

The Gulfstream jet then came to Aspen when the weather cleared and was here at least one night.

“I wondered when I saw it who it was and why they were here,” said Ray Krebs, assistant airport director at the Aspen airport. “There was no prior notification one way or the other. We are usually notified by the Secret Service; or, if it is someone from the Defense Department, generally the notification is from the CID, the Criminal Investigation Division, which is an Army division.”

On Monday, March 4, White and his wife, Susan, closed on the sale of their home at the base of Buttermilk ski area for $6.5 million, and then White left Aspen in the Gulfstream and headed to Seattle for a meeting with Microsoft.

Last week White told reporters that his trip to Aspen was part of the government’s “contingency of operations” plan that rotates high-level officials out of Washington.

But if his visit to Aspen was “official,” it was not described that way to Sheriff Braudis, who has been briefed many times by security agents about visits to Aspen of high-level officials, including presidents.

“Official visits usually involve public appearances or an event,” Braudis said. “For those visits that include a ceremony, we are asked to provide uniformed officers at the venue or a local deputy to travel with the party to provide local knowledge. In this case, it was an unofficial visit.”

Braudis asked the agents, who were from the Army’s Criminal Investigations Division, where they were staying while in town.

“They said, ‘We don’t know, but we understand they have a home here,'” Braudis said.

It is also customary for security agents to ask to borrow a radio from the sheriff’s office in order to stay in close contact with local law enforcement officers during an official visit. That was not the case during White’s visit.

However, a spokesman for the CID said that he would not read too much into the discrepancy between what the agent told Braudis and the Army’s stance that the visit was official.

“The fact that we didn’t request assistance does not determine whether it was an official visit or not,” said Marc Raimondi, the director of public affairs for the CID. “CID agents do not determine if a visit is an official visit or not. It doesn’t matter to us. Our mission to protect the Secretary of the Army.”

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