Tanner has been on thin ice ever since he publicly declared that voter ID laws did not discriminate against minorities, because "minorities don't become elderly the way white people do: they die first." Sen. Barack Obama (D-IL) and Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-NY) called for him to be fired. During last month's hearing, Tanner apologized, saying "I hurt people." Nevertheless, Rep. Artur Davis (D-AL) berated him in a brutal line of questioning for basing decisions on "stereotypes rather than facts."
Tanner took the first of his three trips to Hawaii in January of 2003 when he was a senior lawyer in the section, according to the Department records. David Becker, then an attorney in the section, accompanied him on the trip. Becker is currently with the liberal advocacy group People For the American Way.
"Tanner was really gung-ho on going to Hawaii," Becker told me. "When he discussed scheduling the trip with me, I told him I thought it could be completed in less than a week, given my experience working and meeting with our contacts in Hawaii before, but he indicated that the trip had to be longer.â
Becker himself had been to Hawaii the September prior for a three-day trip. Many section lawyers made a number of such trips to ensure that state and local election agencies were adequately serving minority language populations. Tanner traveled more than any other lawyer in the section during the years of 2003 and 2004 on such matters; taking at least 46 trips, traveling 206 days over those two years.
For a lawyer to make a second trip was not unusual, Becker said. But for two lawyers to make such a trip where the Department was not preparing or involved in a lawsuit against the jurisdiction was highly unusual.
During the trip, the two met with local contacts and state election officials. "After a couple days, I went to him and said, 'I think we're done. Do you mind if I go home?' He said 'OK' and let me go." Department records show that the two lawyers departed Washington, DC on January 2, 2003, a Thursday. Becker left on the earliest available return flight, on Tuesday, the 7th. Tanner did not fly home until the 10th, a Friday. Becker said that he had not been contacted by investigators from OPR or the Department's inspector general.
Despite the fact that the Department ultimately never filed suit against any jurisdiction in Hawaii, Tanner returned again to Hawaii in 2004 and then again in 2005.
But he didn't go alone when he returned. When he departed in March of 2004, he went with Susana Lorenzo-Giguere, the lawyer who's currently under investigation for being paid to work out of her Cape Cod beach house. And according to Becker and Rich, it was common knowledge among voting section attorneys that the two took their spouses on the trip. Moreover, one of the complaints to the inspector general alleges that Lorenzo-Giguere had the Department purchase her a first class ticket for the trip because of an ailing back.
Tanner requested per diem reimbursement for expenses for every day of his visit, including weekend days, according to a travel voucher obtained by TPMmuckraker. That includes the $112 per night hotel bill, parking costs, and the $282 bill for a rental car at the end of his stay.
Rich, who was then the chief of the section, said that he approved both trips by Tanner in 2003 and 2004, because they were made to ensure Hawaii's compliance with minority language provisions. But he said Tanner never suggested suing any jurisdiction in Hawaii afterwards -- notable because he led lawsuits against a number of other jurisdictions for lack of compliance with those provisions.
In July of 2005, after Tanner became chief, he returned to Honolulu by himself for a shorter visit. It's unclear what the purpose would have been.
Melanie Sloan, a former federal prosecutor and currently the Executive Director of Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington, said that officials who hit up taxpayers for recreational travel can be charged with theft of government property, a felony. She added that the crime isn't frequently prosecuted and that it's more likely that Tanner would simply be fired if an OPR investigation concluded he'd stolen Department funds.
But Sloan said that given the problems in the Justice Department, if Attorney General Michael Mukasey was "serious about cleaning up the Department, he'd just get rid of Tanner. If there's a question about him stealing, then he should be gone."
Adrianne Jeffries provided invaluable research and analysis for this piece. Peter Sheehy, James Lambert, and Ned Resnikoff also contributed.
Update: The piece originally said that Becker flew back from Hawaii on Wednesday, January 7th. January 7th was a Tuesday.