The Justice Department Inspector General released a report yesterday showing that a select number of U.S. Attorneys sought reimbursement above government lodging rates. At the top of the worst offenders list: New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (R), who was U.S. Attorney from 2002 to 2008.
The report doesn’t identify Christie or any of the U.S. Attorneys by name. But thanks to stories that came out during his campaign against former Gov. Jon Corzine (D) in 2009, we know that the U.S. Attorney who went over the government-set reimbursement rate the most between 2007 and 2009 was none other than current New Jersey governor.
Specifics of Christie’s travel detailed in stories during the gubernatorial race last year as a result of a Freedom of Information Act request from his opponent match with the profile of a federal prosecutor dubbed “U.S. Attorney C” in the Inspector General report.
“In terms of the percentage of travel, U.S. Attorney C was the U.S. Attorney who most often exceeded the government rate without adequate justification,” the report found. “The U.S. Attorney provided insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification for 14 of 23 trips (61 percent) that exceeded the government rate.”
The fiscally conservative Republican governor was one of a “relatively small number of U.S. Attorneys” who did not comply with federal travel regulations or provide appropriate justification for his lodging costs which exceeded the government rate. He was just one of five U.S. Attorneys identified “who exhibited a noteworthy pattern of exceeding the government rate and whose travel documentation provided insufficient, inaccurate, or no justification for the higher lodging rates.”
One footnote mentions that Christie set up and had the government pay for a prearranged car service for a four-mile trip back and forth from the Boston airport at a price of $236 round trip. “In another example of excessive transportation costs, his car service from a London airport to his hotel in central London cost $562 round trip,” the report added.
Christie declined a request for an interview with the Inspector General’s office. Christie’s press secretary Michael Drewniak told the Associated Press that “the governor thoroughly addressed this issue during the campaign, and I would refer you to his remarks then.”
FireDogLake first connected the dots between the OIG report and TPMDC’s October 2009 story. Some of the details that Christie and U.S. Attorney C shared include stays at the Nine Zero Hotel in Boston and the Four Seasons on Pennsylvania Ave. in D.C.
The period in question is 2007 through 2009, a tumultuous time in the Justice Department with high turnover in no small part due to the U.S. Attorneys scandal. As a result, 208 individuals served as U.S. Attorneys from 93 districts during the time of review.
Besides Christie, the other former U.S. Attorneys mentioned in the report were not immediately identifiable. The report excluded trips by U.S. Attorneys acting in other positions for DOJ entities, and therefore likely does not include Mary Beth Buchanan, who spent more than $450,000 on at least 347 trips over her eight year term at U.S. Attorney.
The report also identifies a U.S. Attorney who was testifying before the Senate Judicary Committee and made a “reservation to the University Club, which cost $189.50 per night, or $35 over the government rate.”
Obama administration officials have since implemented stricter limitations on U.S. Attorney travel. U.S. Attorneys Director H. Marshall Jarrett wrote in a memo outlining the restrictions (available here) that the revamped procedures would ensure compliance with travel policies; strengthen internal controls and oversight of U.S. Attorneys’ travel in a user-friendly process; and maintain the integrity and reputation the U.S. Attorney position.
The Inspector General found those measures were a step in the right direction but suggested further protocols to stop inappropriate travel practices.