Within months of President Donald Trump taking up residence in the White House, the federal government signed a $900,000 contract to purchase jet fuel from a company owned by evangelical leader Jerry Falwell, Jr.’s Liberty University, according to The Daily Beast.
The Pentagon’s Defense Logistics Agency entered into the agreement on May 9, 2017, thus far buying more than $400,000 worth of turbine fuel. The company, Freedom Aviation, is fully owned by Liberty University in Lynchburg, Virginia, The Daily Beast reported — and Falwell, Jr. is one of the president’s most ardent supporters.
According to Pentagon officials, Freedom Aviation is the only “fixed-base operator” in the area and was contracted to refuel Department of Defense aircraft at the Lynchburg airport.
DLA spokesman Patrick Mackin also said the company “submitted the only offer” to contract for the services, and its per-gallon rate of $2.69 ”was determined fair and reasonable in accordance with the Federal Acquisition Regulation and was in line with prices at other airports in the region.”
But Austin Evers, the executive director of transparency group American Oversight, told The Daily Beast that the deal raises red flags, not the least being Liberty University’s inexperience in providing such services to the government.
“It’s possible there’s a legitimate reason why the Defense Department is sending hundreds of thousands of dollars to one of President Trump’s biggest political supporters, but everything about this contract raises red flags,” Evers said.
He added that federal officials must show greater transparency on the issue: “The Pentagon needs to explain exactly how and why this contract was awarded because the Trump administration has lost the benefit of the doubt on anything that even resembles a conflict of interest.”
Falwell and Trump have forged a cozy relationship, with the former often defending the latter even when it puts him at odds with other evangelical leaders.The Daily Beast noted that Trump delivered the commencement address at Liberty University just four days after the Pentagon signed the deal with Freedom Aviation.
During the 2016 campaign, Falwell joined Trump at a rally in Council Bluffs, Iowa, the day before the state held its Republican presidential caucus. The Trump campaign paid Freedom Aviation more than $19,000 for aviation services about one week later, The Daily Beast said, noting that Falwell has acknowledged using the company for personal and business travel.
The university owns six planes, according to the Federal Aviation Administration, which Liberty has on hand for its flight school.