Traveling light -- not on AEI’s dime

Al Kamen
Columnist March 29, 2012

Earlier this month, Rep. Tim Scott traveled to picturesque Sea Island, Ga., for a forum sponsored by the American Enterprise Institute on AEI’s dime. And as lovely as the scenery is surrounding the Cloister Beach Club, where the event was held — think white-sand beaches, pools and palm trees — the South Carolina Republican apparently needed to improve the view.

According to documents filed with the House clerk brought to our attention by LegiStorm founder Jock Friedly, Scott brought along his mother and Zee Patel, a woman he identifies as a “friend,” for the three-day getaway. Patel is a general manager and buyer for the Bits of Lace lingerie store in Charleston, S.C, a boutique that identifies itself as a “bra-fit specialist.”

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

It’s against ethics rules for AEI to pay for Patel’s meals in addition to Scott’s and his mother’s — that’s a no-no, since the rules permit outside groups to pay travel expenses for members and their relatives, but not their pals.

A spokesman for Scott said the congressman had planned all along to personally reimburse AEI for the cost of Patel’s meals after the trip and is just waiting for an invoice from the think tank.

In an earlier filing, Scott, who is unmarried, said he planned to take his mother and his aunt on the trip to Cloister, which Travel and Leisure magazine named one of the world’s “top 100” resorts. The ethics committee said it was fine for AEI to spring for Scott’s expenses and for those of his mother, but indicated that his aunt would have to pay her own way.

Seems there was a change of plans, and Scott wound up leaving the aunt behind and taking Patel instead. According to the post-travel disclosure form, AEI did not pay for Patel and Frances Scott’s travel or lodging expenses (they stayed in Scott’s quarters, for which AEI shelled out $876, the spokesman says). But the form shows that the institute did pay for both women’s meals — at $371 each.

Bits of Lace, where Patel works, is in Scott’s district, and the Scott spokesman says Patel is a “family friend” of both the congressman and his mom — in fact, he says, it was Frances Scott who suggested bringing Patel when the congressman’s aunt couldn’t make it.

Records show that Scott’s campaign paid Patel $1,650 for “transition team” work in 2010.

Possible printer error

No word yet on what may have sparked the State Department annex blaze last week that caused fire and water damage to several floors in the building and forced a number of bureaus there to relocate.

The odd thing about it was that the fire started sometime around 5:30 a.m., long before anyone had arrived at work. The rumor was that a printer on a desk being used by the department’s China team somehow ignited and started a fire.

We jokingly speculated that maybe a Chinese listening device in the printer overheated and set off the blaze. Turns out, that may not have been as far-fetched as we thought.

A Loop fan alerted us to news stories four months ago that said Hewlett-Packard and other printers could be hacked and made to catch fire. (It’s unclear what brand was in use at the State Department office.)

The alleged problem was first reported Nov. 29 by MSNBC, which cited a study by the computer science department of Columbia University’s School of Engineering and Applied Science, conducted with federal and industry grants.

The study, MSNBC reported, concluded that a printer could be hacked and given “instructions so frantic that it could eventually catch fire.”

HP quickly issued a statement decrying “sensational and inaccurate reporting” and said all its printers are equipped with thermal switches that would prevent such fires.

The company said that, while it had “identified a potential security vulnerability with some HP LaserJet printers” without a firewall, it was working on an “upgrade to mitigate this issue.”

So maybe the Chinese figured it out . . .

A tasty campaign stop

Sometimes, a headline is so good, you hardly need to read the story. Such is the case with “Santorum to deliver foreign policy address at Jelly Belly headquarters,” the delightful header to a story by our colleague Felicia Sonmez about former senator Rick Santorum’s unlikely choice of venue for a campaign speech.

Santorum’s folks called the site an homage to the jelly-bean-loving late president Ronald Reagan. Santorum’s foreign policy message, they promised, would be “Reaganesque.”

We can only imagine what this might entail. Perhaps something along the lines of “Mr. Medvedev, tear down the wall separating ‘tutti’ from ‘frutti’!”

With Emily Heil

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

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