Ferreting Out Real Travel Expense Fraud at the Department of Justice (PJM Exclusive)
So Chris Christie likes to stay at the Four Seasons in Washington, D.C. What other travel fraud blockbuster might the Department of Justice release next? Don’t hold your breath. If the violations of travel rules don't involve Republican-appointed U.S. attorneys, the DOJ is in no hurry to release reports.
The Justice Department inspector general this week published a report that showed Chris Christie went outside of travel guidelines to the tune of about $2,000 during his term. The report doesn’t identify Christie by name, but other information in the report makes it an elementary exercise to identify him.
The report documents travel guideline violations by other Bush-era U.S. attorneys as well.
When Justice Department employees travel, they are restrained by the per diem hotel rate. If you cannot obtain the per diem rate, you must seek particular approval to go above the per diem rate. In some rare occasions I had to do this by a few dollars, particularly on football weeks when traveling to college towns for litigation.
Even a Holiday Inn Express in the posh destination of Starkville, Mississippi, can cost more than the per diem some weeks.
Chris Christie traveled to Washington and stayed at the Four Seasons when, as he claimed, his office could not find any hotels that met the per diem rate. I suspect such hotels were available, but were in parts of town Christie wanted to avoid.
Did the Department of Justice have to release this report? Of course not. Inspector general reports are often not released. Should the Department of Justice release a final version of a report involving waste or departure from travel guidelines? Again, of course they should.
But they won’t.
The political motivations to conduct and release such a report, however, are certainly suspect. Nearly all of the U.S. attorneys were Bush-era appointees. Given the political ambitions of many of these U.S. attorneys, such a report might also double as opposition research -- which, thanks to carefully timed leaks in the case of Chris Christie, it did during his election.
But speculation about motives is just that -- speculation. What isn’t speculation is the fact that the Department of Justice has conducted multiple investigations of employee travel fraud and issued reports of far greater abuse of travel regulations by employees.
Why do these rank-and-file career employees get a pass when Chris Christie does not? Would this DOJ rather bash Bush-era U.S. attorneys than reveal the wrongdoing of current employees?
There is a way to find out.
Since leaving the Department of Justice, I have learned the other investigations and reports conducted by the inspector general detail sometimes tens of thousands of dollars in outright travel fraud by Department of Justice career employees. These reports were kept secret -- and involve costs far in excess of one night at the Four Seasons.
Why doesn’t the Department of Justice release these reports also? Worried about “employee privacy”? Then rename the offenders in the same way the U.S. attorney report did -- say, “Civil Rights Division Employee S.”
The public would be shocked that the employees accused of travel fraud in these unreleased reports remain employees of the Department of Justice. That certainly seems a bigger scandal than Chris Christie staying at the Four Seasons.