One of the former U.S. attorneys who was targeted in a report by the Department of Justice for overspending on travel expenses soon is demanding correction and an apology from the agency.
Mary Beth Buchanan, the Bush-appointed U.S. attorney for the western district of Pennsylvania from 2001 to 2009, told The Daily Caller in a phone interview that there were several inaccuracies in the DOJ report that described her of overspending about $4,200 in taxpayer money on hotel expenses.
While Buchanan did not dispute the numbers in the report, which also targeted New Jersey Governor Chris Christie, she said it failed to accurately represent the travel procedures her office followed during her tenure. Instead, said Buchanan, the report seemed to be written in a way “to give the appearance to suggest that [Buchanan’s] office was engaged in conduct that was excessive and abusive.”
According to Buchanan, the report’s chief investigator and author Maura Lee, an employee in the DOJ’s office of Inspector General, first contacted her with questions just days after she lost the Republican congressional primary on May 18.
Buchanan told TheDC that Lee initially told her she was conducting an “administrative review” of U.S. attorney travel and travel procedures. “It wasn’t a criminal investigation or even a civil fraud investigation,” said Buchanan. “Just a review to make travel regulations and policies better.”
One of the report’s inaccuracies stemmed from the initial conversation, Buchanan said – that she blamed her assistant for not getting the government rate for hotel rooms. “That was one of the most troubling aspects to me because I said the exact opposite of that,” Buchanan told TheDC.
“I told her [Lee] right at the beginning that I was responsible for everything that occurs in the office, but a lot of the questions were things other people in the office would know,” said Buchanan.
Another inaccuracy, according to Buchanan, was the report’s representation of a 2008 trip to Tucson, Ariz. The report says she went to a conference two days early and stayed at a resort hotel on the taxpayer’s dime.
Buchanan said she did no such thing, and instead arrived in Tucson the day before she was scheduled to speak, and left the day after her obligations had been met. “I never even participated in the conference the investigator referred to,” said Buchanan.
Buchanan takes issue with the report saying she did not fully cooperate with Lee.
Pages 16 and 17 of the report say “U.S. Attorney B declined our request for an interview. However, in our efforts to schedule an interview, we spoke to her briefly on two occasions and received an e-mail from her about her travel.”
According to Buchanan, her e-mail correspondence with Lee was “very comprehensive and a detailed recitation of each invoice of travel.”
“To say I did not cooperate is wrong,” she said.
Buchanan told TheDC that once she e-mailed Lee, she was never contacted with follow-up questions to seek explanations for the instances that her travel costs exceeded the per diem rate. She said the report never mentioned that while Buchanan was a U.S. attorney, she was also acting director for the DOJ’s Office on Violence Against Women.
The latter position had her traveling to D.C. almost every week for a number of years, Buchanan told TheDC. That explains why her travel costs were the highest of all the other U.S. attorneys mentioned in the report.
“Any instance in which the investigator could characterize something in a negative light, she did,” said Buchanan. “There was no attempt to write a factual report … it’s something I’ve never seen in my 22 years with the Justice Department.”
As the Daily Caller reported earlier this week, several former DOJ employees who worked with the report’s author came out saying Lee has a troubled history with the DOJ – breaking into her conservative colleague’s e-mail accounts and leaking sensitive information to the media, among other things. She was removed from a major case, at one point, because of unprofessional behavior, according to sources.
One of those former employees told TheDC that based on his experience working with Lee, he knew her to be “so biased, there is no way she could investigate and write and objective report.”
“I can’t imagine anyone more inappropriate to be working on this kind of report in the IG office,” he added.
Another former DOJ employee, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, told TheDC over the phone that he believed it was “very telling” that the report seemed to identify only prominent U.S. attorneys where investigations were launched during or around the time of their campaigns.
“It was just designed, it seems like, to attack the credibility of individuals,” the employee said. Regarding Lee, he told TheDC, “I can’t imagine anyone with demeanor less suited to work in the IG office. Its reputational interests are at stake.”