Ryan Crocker’s rocky homecoming

Al Kamen
Columnist August 23, 2012

Former ambassador Ryan Crocker has served in some of the world’s toughest regions. Now, just weeks after retiring and returning stateside, he’s facing charges of driving while intoxicated and leaving the scene of an accident.

The Associated Press is reporting that Crocker was arrested Aug. 14 in Spokane Valley after an incident in which he allegedly hit another car with the 2009 Ford Mustang convertible he was driving.

Al Kamen, an award-winning columnist on the national staff of The Washington Post, created the “In the Loop” column in 1993. View Archive

Crocker, a Spokane native, announced his retirement last month for unspecified health reasons. Most recently the U.S. ambassador to Afghanistan, he had previously been the ambassador to Iraq, where he served under President George W. Bush during the military “surge.” Before that, he was posted to troubled hot spots around the globe, including Pakistan, Syria, Kuwait and Lebanon.

His attorney, Julie Twyford, did not respond to a call seeking comment.

A Democrat’s travels

Just a day after we noted that the nation’s top lawyer was racking up frequent-flier miles, Republican members of Congress are questioning Attorney General Eric Holder ’s use of FBI jets for business and personal travel, saying it might be hampering the agency’s readiness and eating into its budget.

In a letter sent Thursday to FBI Director Robert Mueller , the lawmakers questioned the propriety of the FBI footing the bill for Holder’s travel on FBI aircraft. “It is our understanding that the Justice Department does not reimburse the FBI, or other components, for its executive travel expenses even though the Justice Department maintains its own travel budget,” the letter states.

The letter was signed by Sen. Charles Grassley (Iowa), the top Republican on the Judiciary Committee; House Judiciary Chairman Lamar Smith (R-Tex.); and Sen. Kay Bailey Hutchison (Tex.) and Rep. Frank Wolf (Va.), the top Republicans on their chambers’ appropriations panels.

The Republican lawmakers say their inquiry was prompted by allegations that the FBI plane was being used for “extraneous business and personal travel by senior DOJ officials, including the Attorney General.” Grassley first raised questions about the Justice Department’s use of FBI planes during a May hearing with Mueller.

An FBI spokeswoman said Mueller had received the letter and planned to respond to the questions. A Justice spokesman did not have an immediate comment.

Attorneys general are not permitted to fly commercial for security reasons, and like many government officials, they may use one of a pool of military jets maintained by the Defense Department, for both business and personal travel. They are required to reimburse the government, based on the cost of commercial fares, for personal trips.

The lawmakers said they were concerned that Holder’s use of FBI aircraft, which is supposed to be reserved for the agency’s own operations, could hinder the agency. Since the FBI always has to have a plane around — you know, in case it needs to, say, sweep in and pick up an agent — the agency has had to lease another aircraft while theirs was being used to ferry Justice Department officials, the lawmakers said.

“We heard troubling allegations that the Attorney General is among those who have reserved and used FBI planes for his own travel when aircraft were needed for FBI missions, then upgraded to a larger aircraft owned by a different agency and left the FBI plane sitting idle,” the lawmakers wrote. “These allegations were particularly troubling because they suggested the FBI had to lease another plane to ensure the availability of aircraft for FBI operations.”

During the May hearing, Mueller told Grassley that FBI planes “are used for counterterrorism and that any travel for principals is secondary to the use of the plane for the investigative work of the FBI.”

Congressional Republicans are at odds with Holder over a number of issues. The GOP-run House voted in June to hold him in civil and criminal contempt for withholding records on the Operation Fast and Furious gun-tracking effort.

A Republican’s travels

The “Congressmen Gone Wild” antics in the Sea of Galilee have spawned a few things: some unfortunate mental images (a skinny-dipping congressman — eek!), plenty of cable-news chatter — and the emergence of congressional travel as a salient campaign issue.

Usually not deemed sexy enough for electoral mud-slinging, the topic was elevated to sound-bite-ready status by that now-infamous trip to Israel.

To wit: Steve Wilkins , the Democratic nominee challenging Rep. Renee Ellmers (R-N.C.), used the hook of the Israel trip (which Ellmers was on) to chastise her for fancy travel habits.

“While the rest of the country was watching the ugly debt ceiling debate and the embarrassing downgrading of our credit rating, Rep. Ellmers was planning a vacation paid for by special interests,” Wilkins said in a news release. “People in this district and across the nation are struggling, and they need a representative that’s focused on their needs instead of lavish foreign junkets.”

The Israel trip was paid for by the American Israel Educational Foundation, which is allowed by House rules that permit members of Congress to go on trips funded by outside groups, as long as the organizations don’t hire lobbyists.

Ellmers’s chief of staff Al Lytton called the charges a “distraction,” saying the people in the congresswoman’s district had bigger concerns. “The real issues here are jobs and the economy,” he said.

But for the moment anyway, congressional travel is officially on the map.

With Emily Heil

The blog: washingtonpost.com/
intheloop. Twitter: @InTheLoopWP.

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