Private trips go on despite scrutiny

Thirteen House and Senate aides took a privately paid trip to Europe over the Memorial Day recess despite the intense scrutiny of the funding of such excursions.

The aides departed last Saturday for a week’s stay in Prague, Paris and London courtesy of the Tax Foundation, a nonprofit group dedicated to lowering taxes and improving simplicity, to learn about tax issues facing Western Europe, said Bill Ahern, the foundation’s spokesman.

Ahern also provided a House ethics committee letter that gave guidance to the foundation on the ethical boundaries of private travel. But Reps. Doc HastingsDoc HastingsBoehner hires new press secretary GOP plots new course on Endangered Species Act reform GOP accuses feds of bad science in endangered species studies MORE (R-Wash.) and Alan Mollohan (D-W.Va.), the chairman and ranking Democrat on the panel, said that they do not provide advice to outside organizations and that it would be “inappropriate … to suggest that the trip had been ‘pre-cleared’ by the Committee.” 

The staffers — most of whom work for lawmakers with jurisdiction over key tax issues — are employed by Senate Majority Leader Bill Frist (R-Tenn.), Sens. Jeff Bingaman (D-N.M.), Orrin HatchOrrin HatchHow the White House got rolled on the Saudi-9/11 bill Overnight Finance: Lawmakers float criminal charges for Wells Fargo chief | Scrutiny on Trump's Cuba dealings | Ryan warns of recession if no tax reform Overnight Healthcare: Watchdog says ObamaCare program made illegal payments MORE (R-Utah), Craig Thomas (R-Wyo.), Gordon Smith (R-Ore.) and Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the Senate Finance Committee, the Senate Foreign Relations Committee and Reps. Phil English (R-Pa.), Jim McCrery (R-La.), Sam JohnsonSam JohnsonRepublican Study Committee elders back Harris for chairman IRS publishes guidelines on tax relief for wrongfully incarcerated people Overnight Finance: House votes to rein in IRS; Ryan won't set Puerto Rico timeline MORE (R-Texas), Jerry Weller (R-Ill.) and William Jefferson (D-La.).

According to the itinerary provided by Ahern, the 13 aides will be treated to a walking history tour of Prague and meetings with Czech government officials. In Paris, they will get a briefing from officials at the U.S. Embassy and tour a Pepsi bottling plant.

After less than two days in Paris, the group will travel to London to meet with British tax officials, including a meeting with an aide to Prime Minister Tony Blair at 10 Downing St., his official residence, and it will get a tour of Parliament.

Jonathan E. Kaplan