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story.lead_photo.caption Arkansas Attorney General Leslie Rutledge gives a press conference in this Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2020 file photo. (Arkansas Democrat-Gazette / Stephen Swofford)

Members of the security detail that accompanied Attorney General Leslie Rutledge to Republican gatherings last month spent $7,800 on their travel, state expense records show.

Most of that was related to lodging, including:

$3,571 at the Westin Charlotte, across the street from the site of the Republican National Convention.

$1,554 at the J.W. Marriott Washington, D.C. Rutledge went to the nation’s capital to watch President Donald Trump’s acceptance speech at the White House.

$1,194 at the five-star Sea Island Resort in Georgia, where the Republican Attorneys General Association had gathered.

Two members of Rutledge’s security detail traveled from Arkansas to North Carolina last month, arriving three days ahead of Rutledge, and stayed five nights. Two others went to Georgia. Three of them continued on to Washington.

The $7,800 figure includes the cost of hotels, meals, gas, parking, one car wash and other incidentals; it doesn’t calculate the value of the vehicle usage.

Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who also travels with security, skipped the convention, saying he needed to focus on the state’s ongoing public health emergency.

Rutledge, who is running for governor in 2022, was not available to speak with a reporter Friday, according to her spokeswoman, Amanda Priest.

She was unlikely to be available Saturday either, Priest said.

In written comments, Priest portrayed the travel as appropriate.

“The employees are Special Agents of the Office and were there in an official capacity due to the violent threats of protests surrounding the meetings and events, particularly those involving the President of the United States,” Priest wrote.

“Taxpayer funds were not used to pay for air fare, food or lodging of the Attorney General,” she wrote.

Priest declined to say who had paid for Rutledge’s trip; nor would she say whether Rutledge had flown on private planes.

A picture posted Aug. 26 on Rutledge’s Twitter page showed the attorney general, South Dakota Gov. Kristi Noem and former Trump campaign manager Corey Lewandowski standing on an airfield, with a small jet right behind them.

Priest would not say how many other employees of the attorney general’s office had accompanied Rutledge or who had paid for their travel.

“Other than members of the Special Investigation Department who also handle security issues, other employees in attendance at meetings and events took personal leave time and no taxpayer funds were used for their arrangements,” she wrote.

The U.S. Secret Service was in charge of security for the convention, according to a spokesman for the Charlotte-Mecklenburg Police Department.

Barriers were erected around the perimeter, preventing the public from accessing either the convention hall, the hotel where Republicans had gathered or the streets surrounding the buildings.

A helicopter flew overhead to monitor the area for radiation for the National Nuclear Security Administration.

Foot traffic was light, and many businesses closed.

At least 17 protesters were arrested outside the zone over a three-day period leading up to the convention, according to Charlotte police news releases provided to the Arkansas Democrat-Gazette. Another person was arrested for trespassing and resisting arrest on the day of the convention, but investigators did not believe the trespasser’s intent “was to interfere with the RNC.”

The convention events “were free of disruption,” the department said.

Protesters did amass outside the White House on the night of Trump’s Aug. 27 acceptance speech, harassing many of Trump’s guests as they departed.

At least nine “unrest-related arrests” were made before and after the event, according to a list compiled by Washington’s Metropolitan Police Department.

Priest portrayed the trip as worthwhile.

“Attorney General Rutledge had an exceptionally productive week on behalf of the State of Arkansas hosting a meeting with a member of President Trump’s cabinet, individual meetings with federal and state leaders as well as moderating a panel discussion among her colleagues and leadership from the Administration,” she wrote.

“This trip was certainly not a vacation, but rather a week filled with meetings and events as the Attorney General of Arkansas was spending time away from home to raise awareness nationally of issues facing Arkansans,” Priest wrote.

PREVIOUS TRIPS

This isn’t the first time Arkansas taxpayers have footed the bill for some of Rutledge’s travels.

In 2016, members of Rutledge’s security team traveled with her to the Republican National Convention in Cleveland and then to Philadelphia, site of the Democratic National Convention.

Along the way, the three agents incurred at least $8,120 in expenses, excluding mileage, the Democrat-Gazette reported in 2018.

Lt. Gov. Tim Griffin, another Republican candidate for governor, also traveled to Cleveland for the convention in 2016 but didn’t have state-funded security, he said Friday.

“I don’t spend taxpayer dollars on travel for political events,” he said.

In 2018, the Democratic Attorneys General Association and Rutledge’s Democratic opponent, Mike Lee, portrayed the spending as unethical.

The criticism didn’t alter the election outcome: Rutledge was reelected with 61.8% of the vote.

In an interview, Democratic Party of Arkansas Chairman Michael John Gray portrayed security as appropriate.

“Taking the partisan labels off of it, the state of Arkansas has a responsibility to protect its elected officials,” Gray said.

When an event is purely political, however, the cost shouldn’t be borne solely by the taxpayers, he said.

“I’d love to see the governor and the attorney general show some leadership and at least start picking up half that tab,” he said.

While the spending may be election-year fodder, Rutledge’s predecessor, Dustin McDaniel, hasn’t joined in the criticism.

As attorney general, McDaniel fought to create the Special Investigations Division, which is tasked with providing the security as well as other functions for that office.

Their services are necessary, he said, noting that he’s been a certified police officer in Arkansas since 1994 and is currently a deputy sheriff in Poinsett County.

“I would not be surprised if in many states, including Arkansas, the A.G. gets as many if not more threats than the governor,” McDaniel said.

“Attorneys general handle the most controversial issues in their states. They handle litigations ranging from abortion to [the] death penalty. … They are, as the state’s top law enforcement officials, often unfairly targeted. I remember receiving threats written in blood,” McDaniel said.

“Ten years ago, most attorneys general did not travel with security details, but today they do,” he said.

“For attorneys general around the United States, it is not a vanity project nor wasteful government spending for them to have appropriate security measures. It is simply a reflection of the times in which we live,” he said.

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