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.

Obviously nobody expects the breathless Soros-funded blogs that shouted the Chris Christie story to show any interest in this wider pattern of waste. They aren’t about fairness when it gets in the way of their agenda.

But you might expect some legitimate reporters who cover the Justice Department to report this larger story of waste, and maybe why the Department is keeping these other reports secret. It would be particularly helpful for an outfit like NPR to show that its Justice coverage involves more than carrying water for the Obama administration. NPR has a chance to show that it has a journalistic agenda other than ferreting out heretics like Juan Williams who dare offend NPR orthodoxy. Otherwise, the new House will have one more reason to cut NPR’s funding.

They can start with the NPR reporter who covers the Justice Department. Unprecedented, you say? Not really. It wouldn’t be the first public radio personality targeted by name for a loss of salary by a legislature.  If you doubt that, Google Michael Graham.

So if you are interested Washington Post, Washington Times, and NPR, here is how to get the information about the scandalous concealment of other travel fraud by the DOJ. (Note that I omitted the New York Times; the Gray Lady is beyond redemption.)

Submit a request to the always helpful and cheerful Tracy Schmaler at the DOJ Office of Public Affairs. Brand it an FOIA request so you can always sue if they don’t respond. Ask for “all inspector general reports concluding Department of Justice employees may have violated travel expense reimbursement guidelines from 2006-2010.” Advise the FOIA officer that if the reports themselves will not be provided for some inexplicable reason, you want “a list of qualifying inspector general investigative reports with the employee name redacted and the aggregate amount of total questionable travel expenses.” Demand that “all inspector general reports where either travel expenses or annual leave payments were at issue or in dispute” be provided or named.

And one more thing to include in your request: ask if the employees who are the subject of the reports are still employed by the Department of Justice. The answer may surprise you. Then again, with this DOJ, maybe it won’t.

If the inspector general’s office actually has the temerity to reject this FOIA request, then perhaps you might consider advising taxpayers why, in this Justice Department, travel and leave wrongdoing merits privacy consideration instead of jail time.  I’m sure the public will understand.

If anyone in the dying dead trees media actually went to the trouble to do what I suggest, the public would learn that Chris Christie’s night at the Four Seasons is truly small potatoes.