Lawmakers skipped NSA briefing to attend Paris air show

Two lawmakers skipped a recent high-level briefing on National Security Agency (NSA) snooping so they could go to the Paris Air Show. [WATCH VIDEO]

Six lawmakers actually attended the show last weekend but one of them, Sen. James Inhofe (R-Okla.), was able to attend the briefing, according to his office, and catch an evening flight to France, demonstrating it was possible to attend a briefing on a major political issue and still join the plush codel.

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Sens. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.) and Richard Shelby (R-Ala.) missed the 2:30 p.m. session to catch an afternoon flight from Dulles International Airport.

The Paris Air Show, which started in 1909, claims to be the world’s oldest and largest aerospace show. Three other lawmakers who joined the trip missed the NSA briefing but they said it was because of conflicting meetings.

Sen. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa) had a previously scheduled meeting with a top White House official, according to an aide.

Sen. Thad Cochran (R-Miss.) had a meeting with the secretary of the Air Force and Bradley Spacy, commander of the 81st training wing at Keesler Air Force base in Mississippi.

Sen. Roger Wicker (R-Miss.) attended an Armed Services Committee markup of the Defense authorization.

They flew to Paris late Thursday evening.

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The paltry attendance at the June 13 briefing exasperated Senate Intelligence Committee Chairwoman Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.), who helped set it up so that colleagues would be informed of an issue that has caused a public uproar: NSA surveillance of U.S. citizens.

It was a rare opportunity for many lawmakers to hear directly from James Clapper, the Director of   National Intelligence, Keith Alexander, the director of the NSA, and the former chief judge of the Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act (FISA) court in one meeting.

One Senate aide dismissed the trip to Paris as a “boondoggle” but Mikulski, the chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, and Shelby argue it was an important opportunity to help the domestic economy.

Mikulski took the trip to “show her support for American manufacturing,” according to an aide, who noted that Mikulski had attended briefings with Alexander on Tuesday and Wednesday of that same week.

An aide to Mikulski said she had to take the afternoon flight because the evening flight was fully booked.

Shelby said companies that attend the air show have major business interests in Alabama. In April, Airbus began construction on a $600 million assembly line in Mobile.

The Hill surveyed all 100 members of the Senate to find out who sat in on the briefing with Clapper and Alexander and who missed it.

Although Feinstein reported that only 47 of 100 senators attended the briefing, 50 senators said they were there.

Some lawmakers did not want to postpone early afternoon flights back home.

“It was the only flight I could get and it was scheduled for a time that was difficult,” Sen. Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.) said of the briefing.

She said he hoped that senior intelligence officials could schedule another briefing when the Senate is “in sessions.”

The Senate adjourned at 7:03 p.m. the day of the briefing, but Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) scheduled the last vote of the day at 12:04 p.m.

Sen. John Thune (R-S.D.) took advantage of the early vote to catch a flight home to ensure he could attend an official event in South Dakota. A GOP aide noted that Thune has attended other classified briefings on NSA surveillance.

Sen. Dean Heller (R-Nev.) had to catch a flight back to Nevada to attend a funeral the following day.

Sens. Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) and the four Democratic members of the Gang of Eight, Charles Schumer (N.Y.), Dick Durbin (Ill.), Robert Menendez (N.J.) and Michael Bennet (Colo.), missed the briefing to meet with President Obama to discuss immigration reform.

Sen. Mike Crapo (R-Idaho) said he was heading to the briefing but “got interrupted by another business item.”

“I was trying to go,” he said.

Sen. Mark Udall (D-Colo.), an outspoken critic of the NSA surveillance programs, missed the briefing because of a markup of the Defense authorization bill in the Senate Armed Services Committee.

Udall and other members of the Senate Intelligence Committee, such as Sens. Dan Coats (R-Ind.) and Mark Warner (D-Va.), had attended previous classified briefings on electronic surveillance programs.

Sens. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.), Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.), Ted Cruz (R-Texas), Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.), Deb Fischer (R-Neb.), Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.), Kay Hagan (D-N.C.), Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), Tim Kaine (D-Va.), Angus King (I-Maine), Mike Lee (R-Utah), Carl Levin (D-Mich.), Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.), Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.), Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) and David Vitter (R-La.) also missed the briefing because of the Armed Services Committee meeting.

Attended June 13 classified briefing with DNI head James Clapper and NSA director Keith Alexander:

John Barrasso (R-Wyo.)

Max Baucus (D-Mont.)

Mark Begich (D-Alaska)

John Boozman (R-Ark.)

Barbara Boxer (D-Calif.)

Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio)

Richard Burr (R-N.C.)

Ben Cardin (D-Md.)

Tom Carper (D-Del.)

Robert Casey (D-Pa.)

Saxby Chambliss (R-Ga.)

Jeff Chiesa (R-N.J.)

Tom Coburn (R-Okla.)

Susan Collins (R-Maine)

Chris Coons (D-Del.)

Bob Corker (R-Tenn.)

John Cornyn (R-Texas)

William “Mo” Cowan (D-Mass.)

Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.)

Al Franken (D-Minn.)

Lindsey Graham (R-S.C.)

Orrin Hatch (R-Utah)

Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.)

Heidi Heitkamp (D-N.D.)

John Hoeven (R-N.D.)

James Inhofe (R-Okla.)

Johnny Isakson (R-Ga.)

Mike Johanns (R-Neb.)

Ron Johnson (R-Wis.)

Mark Kirk (R-Ill.)

Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.)

John McCain (R-Ariz.)

Mitch McConnell (R-Ky.)

Jeff Merkley (D-Ore.)

Lisa Murkowski (R-Alaska)

Chris Murphy (D-Conn.)

Bill Nelson (D-Fla.)

Rand Paul (R-Ky.)

Rob Portman (R-Ohio)

Pat Roberts (R-Kan.)

Jay Rockefeller (D-W.Va.)

Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.)

Brian Schatz (D-Hawaii)

Tim Scott (R-S.C.)

John Tester (D-Mont.)

Pat Toomey (R-Pa.)

Tom Udall (D-N.M.)

Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.)

Sheldon Whitehouse (D-R.I.)

Ron Wyden (D-Ore.)

Missed the meeting:

Lamar Alexander (R-Tenn.)

Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.)

Tammy Baldwin (D-Wis.)

Michael Bennet (D-Colo.)

Richard Blumenthal (D-Conn.)

Roy Blunt (R-Mo.)

Maria Cantwell (D-Wash.)

Dan Coats (R-Ind.)

Thad Cochran (R-Miss.)

Mike Crapo (R-Idaho)

Ted Cruz (R-Texas)

Joe Donnelly (D-Ind.)

Richard Durbin (D-Ill.)

Michael Enzi (R-Wyo.)

Deb Fischer (R-Neb.)

Jeff Flake (R-Ariz.)

Kirsten Gillibrand (D-N.Y.)

Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa)

Kay Hagan (D-N.C.)

Tom Harkin (D-Iowa)

Dean Heller (R-Nev.)

Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii)

Tim Johnson (D-S.D.)

Tim Kaine (D-Va.)

Angus King (I-Maine)

Mary Landrieu (D-La.)

Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)

Mike Lee (R-Utah)

Carl Levin (D-Mich.)

Joe Manchin (D-W.Va.)

Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.)

Robert Menendez (D-N.J.)

Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.)

Jerry Moran (R-Kan.)

Patty Murray (D-Wash.)

Mark Pryor (D-Ark.)

Jack Reed (D-R.I.)

Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

James Risch (R-Idaho)

Marco Rubio (R-Fla.)

Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.)

Jeff Sessions (R-Ala.)

Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.)

Richard Shelby (R-Ala.)

Debbie Stabenow (D-Mich.)

John Thune (R-S.D.)

Mark Udall (D-Colo.)

David Vitter (R-La.)

Mark Warner (D-Va.)

Roger Wicker (R-Miss.)

— Meredith Bentsen, Brina Chu, Tianna Manon, Alexandar Resnak, Katie Tank contributed reporting.

--This report was updated at 6:25 p.m.

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