Despite assurances from Rep. Chellie Pingree’s spokesman that her use of a private jet to take her to and from Washington is legal and appropriate, new developments regarding the jet’s logs and Pingree’s official “personal status” seem likely to raise new questions.

The jet’s travel schedule has been pulled from a source that had been supplying it. Information from had been available for a fee as recently as Thursday but was removed per a request of the jet’s owner, according to the website.

On Saturday, Pingree’s spokesman Willy Ritch also released a statement from a congressional ethics lawyer clearing Pingree of any conflict.

The written opinion from Carol E. Dixon, counsel to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, advises Pingree that “a member is clearly permitted to accept such travel under the House gift rule.”

Dixon’s statement said a provision of the gift rule allows acceptance of gifts from a relative. The definition of relative, according to the Ethics in Government Act, includes as a relative “the fiance or fiancee’ of the member.

“The gift rule does not contain any limit on the amount or frequency of gifts from relatives,” Dixon wrote in response to Pingree’s inquiry.

“Thus, under the gift rule, a member would be permitted to accept, in an unlimited amount, donations of transportation offered by the member’s fiance. Such permissible gifts would include travel on a plane privately owned by the fiance.’

Ritch said Pingree sought a written opinion on the flights from the standards committee after a political blogger in Maine last week chronicled her travel aboard her fianc?onald Sussman’s private jet.

An official ethics opinion was promised Friday; that opinion, however, required the signatures of both Democratic and Republican chairs of the Committee, who were unable to do so.

“They left town before they were able to do that on Thursday,” Ritch said Saturday evening.

Last week was the first time Pingree acknowledged her formal engagment to Sussman, a billionaire Wall Street financier and noted donor to Democratic political causes.

Ritch said Pingree and Sussman became engaged in May 2009, but “they didn’t feel like this was something they needed to tell the public about until this story came up.”

As recently as July, however, Pingree was still publicly referring to Sussman as her partner, according to a report from the Island Ad-Vantages newspaper of Stonington. The paper covered the donation of a refurbished building from Sussman to a local Stonington nonprofit that advocates for fishermen.

Pingree, the newspaper said, told the gathered audience she was proud to be Sussman’s partner, and that the pair will work together on future projects to strengthen working waterfronts.

Pingree, a Democrat from North Haven seeking a second term in the House, is running in Maine’s 1st District against Republican challenger Dean Scontras of Eliot. She is scheduled to speak tonight at a Democratic rally in South Portland including former President Clinton and gubernatorial candidate Libby Mitchell.

Ritch said Pingree was not available for comment Saturday night, and he did not know whether she flew private or commercial on her return this weekend to Maine from Washington, D.C.

The Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram has obtained a copy of what appears to be a two-year list of flight logs for the Sussman jet which carries a tail number of N88CE. The records are being reviewed.

A formal request from the newspapers for Pingree’s travel voucher requests is forthcoming. No indication exists, however, that Pingree may have billed the government for commercial fare while traveling on the jet.

Ritch said it doesn’t happen. Whenever she flies with Sussman, he said, “no taxpayer resources are used.”

Questions arose after the blog posted video of Sussman and Pingree disembarking from his plane at Portland International Jetport earlier this month.

The blog accused Pingree of hypocrisy for speaking out against congressional flights on corporate jets in 2006 while she was president of Common Cause, a nonpartisan group that advocates for government transparency and campaign finance reform.

The MaineWatchdog is funded by the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity, whose advisory council includes conservative journalists. The center is privately funded and doesn’t disclose the names of donors.

Jason Stverak, listed as president of the organization, served six years as executive director of the North Dakota Republican Party and worked on Rudy Giuliani’s presidential bid.

Ritch said political attacks on Pingree’s relationship are not new.

“This is the third opponent in a row of Chellie’s who has had people dig into her personal life to try to find some way to make an issue of the man she is in a relationship with,” Ritch said. “This has nothing to do with the real, serious issues we face, like bringing jobs back to our state. Maine people don’t want to hear this kind of attack on people’s personal lives.”

Pingree defeated Rep. Charlie Summers of Scarborough in the 2008 general election and Ethan Strimling, among others, in the Democratic primary.

Both objected to Sussman injecting large sums of money into Pingree’s campaigns.

Staff Writer Glenn Jordan can be contacted at 791-6425 or at:

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