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Internal audit rebukes outspoken US ambassador

An internal government audit rebukes a key Catholic supporter of President Barack Obama for spending too much time writing and speaking about subjects such as abortion and his religious beliefs, and neglecting his duties as the U.S. ambassador to Malta.

The report released Thursday by the State Department's inspector general is the second critical assessment of a politically appointed top diplomat this year and illustrates the pitfalls that presidents can face when they appoint non-career diplomats to ambassadorships as a reward for their political support.

The 41-page audit says Douglas Kmiec's "outside activities have detracted from his attention to core mission goals" in the Mediterranean island nation, such as promoting maritime security and American business. It acknowledges the wide respect for Kmiec in the conservative, Roman Catholic country of Malta, but notes that his articles distract him and his embassy officials by forcing them to carefully review his writing. They've upset administration officials in Washington too.

A message left with the embassy in Valletta seeking comment was not immediately returned late Thursday.

Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University and an anti-abortion, Catholic backer of Obama, was confirmed as ambassador in August 2009. A month later, he told the Times of Malta that he challenged then Sen.-Obama during the presidential campaign on the question of abortion.

"How can you allow someone to terminate another person's life?" he said he asked Obama. According to his recollection, the president responded that abortion is a "moral tragedy" that should be addressed at its root causes — including poverty or a lack of health care — and not by penalizing women opting for the procedure.

The audit says: "The ambassador should focus on embassy priorities and refrain from outside activities, including writing and speaking engagements that do not pertain directly to strengthening maritime security, promoting U.S. trade and investment and other mission goals."

It says Kmiec's "unconventional approach" to being ambassador has upset State Department officials, "especially over his reluctance to accept their guidance and instructions." The ambassador has rebuffed their suggestions because he believes he was given a special mandate to promote Obama's interfaith initiatives, even as embassy staff must "spend an inordinate amount of time reviewing his writings, speeches and other initiatives."

"On average he spends several hours of each work day in the residence, much of which appears to be devoted to his nonofficial writings," the report says, concluding that as a result Kmiec spends too little time cultivating relationships with senior Maltese government officials, business executives and diplomatic contacts.

The report didn't cite any particular comments from Kmiec. In the year-and-a-half since his appointment, he has written and commented extensively about personal issues such as an August 2010 accident when his car veered into a drainage ditch in Southern California, killing one close friend who was a passenger, a 74-year-old nun, and injuring another, a 94-year-old pastor. The pastor later died of a heart attack.

"My reaction to all this is, Lord, I'm your footnote," said Kmiec, who was injured in the crash.

Kmiec, 59, a lawyer in President Ronald Reagan's administration, was targeted by conservative Catholics and denied Communion by one priest for his support for Obama.

The criticism comes after a February report that described the 14-month tenure of Cynthia Stroum, a superstar Obama donor who became ambassador to Luxembourg, as a disaster, fraught with personality conflicts, verbal abuse and questionable expenditures on travel, wine and liquor. Things were so bad in the wealthy European nation that some staff requested transfers to Iraq and Afghanistan, the report said.

Stroum resigned effective Jan. 31, just days before the scathing assessment of her was made public.

Separate from the criticism of Kmiec, Thursday's audit also found no justification for the high cost of rest and recovery for employees working at the U.S. Embassy in Malta's capital.

"The post's own report of conditions cites excellent weather, adequate medical care, good local transportation and easy access to Europe," it says. In the last fiscal year, "the department spent about $40,000 to fund R&R travel for employees in Valletta — an unnecessary expense."

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