WASHINGTON — New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, who is raising his national political profile as a government cost-cutter, engaged in a pattern of abuse when he was U.S. attorney by billing taxpayers to stay at luxury hotels, the Justice Department's inspector general said in a report Monday.
The inspector general found that the Republican governor, who recently killed the construction of a new rail line to New York under the Hudson River, did not comply with federal travel regulations or provide acceptable justification for lodging costs that exceeded the government rate.
Christie was one of five U.S. attorneys singled out for criticism in the inspector general's review of U.S. attorney travel that exceeded the government lodging rate. Christie was the chief federal prosecutor for New Jersey from 2002 until Dec. 1, 2008, when he resigned to run for governor. He became governor last January.
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While the amount of money involved in the review of Christie's travel vouchers is small, $2,176, the IG's report comes at a time when Christie's political star is rising as he focuses on reducing the cost of government.
The inspector general's report concluded that there were other examples of questionable travel by several other U.S. attorneys, but that those instances "were not part of a pattern of abuse like those described" in the section of the report on the five U.S. attorneys.
The report did not name the five U.S. attorneys and referred to Christie only as "U.S. Attorney C." But the details in the report about U.S. Attorney C were identical to travel data on Christie from Justice Department records that were publicly released last year under the Freedom of Information Act during Christie's race for governor.
Fifteen of the 23 travel vouchers for lodging that Christie submitted from 2007 to 2009 exceeded the government rate for lodging, the report stated.
The U.S. attorney "provided insufficient, inaccurate or no justification" for 14 of the 15 trips, the report added.
Christie's press secretary, Michael Drewniak, said Monday that "the governor thoroughly addressed this issue during the campaign, and I would refer you to his remarks then."
During the campaign, Christie said he stayed in more expensive hotels only when cheaper ones weren't available.
"We always went for government rates first," he said. "I don't think there were a lot of stays in five-star hotels over seven years."
The inspector general only examined travel back through 2007.
Twelve of the 14 trips in which Christie's hotel cost exceeded government rates all related to one particular case which the report did not identify, but Christie's office confirmed Monday that the case involved five medical-device manufacturers. Those companies avoided criminal prosecution over financial inducements paid to surgeons to use the companies' products.
During that case, Christie "addressed the companies, their boards and senior management numerous times on their obligations and compliance with the deferred prosecution agreements," Drewniak said in an e-mail.
In one instance related to the case, the inspector general wrote, the U.S. attorney traveled to Boston for meetings with representatives of a defendant company at the Nine Zero Hotel at a cost of $449 per night — more than double the government rate of $220 per night in Boston.
In a trip not related to that case, the U.S. attorney justified a $475-per-night stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Washington, D.C., by saying that there was an early morning speech at the hotel. If lodging at the government rate of $233 was available within a reasonable distance, "we do not believe this was a suitable justification," the report added.
In the report, by Inspector General Glenn Fine, a footnote on transportation costs said the U.S. attorney took a prearranged car service on a four-mile trip to and from the Boston airport costing $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 is the first Republican elected New Jersey governor in a dozen years. He was a sought-after guest on the GOP campaign trail during the midterm elections.
Christie has left the door open for a 2016 presidential run. On Sunday, he said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that he was "going to need a job" after 2013. He added: "So maybe it will be that. Who knows?"
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