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Prosecutor erred on his expenses, auditors say


WASHINGTON -- Special Iran-contra prosecutor Lawrence E. Walsh, already under sharp criticism for the high costs of his prolonged investigation, drew a new complaint yesterday from government auditors over his personal expenses.

The General Accounting Office, although not saying that Mr. Walsh intentionally broke any laws or rules, found that he had charged the government $78,000 more than federal law allows for room and board in Washington and while traveling.

Mr. Walsh got $95 a day for a room at Washington's famous Watergate Hotel, even when he did not stay in the room, and that was wrong even if he could claim some room rent here, the audit report said.

Mr. Walsh, however, should have treated Washington as his residence, not Oklahoma City, thus making him ineligible to get any of his room rent here paid, and reducing significantly his daily expense allowance, according to the report. He used a government auto to take him to and from his office and his hotel, and that, too, was not allowed.

The GAO also said that it had found that a "senior employee" in the Walsh office, who was not identified, incorrectly treated his home city as his "duty station," and thus claimed an extra $5,000 for traveling to work in Washington.

The conclusion that Mr. Walsh had claimed too much in expense reimbursements had two calculations in the GAO study: He was paid $78,000 too much, if measured by what he was entitled to get for actual per-day expenses, or $44,000 too much, if measured by a 150-percent-of-actual-expense allowance to which some government officials -- but not Mr. Walsh -- are entitled.

The agency, which is the auditing arm of Congress, put most of the blame for those and other examples of misspent money on faulty or incomplete guidance from other government agencies.

The report noted that Mr. Walsh disagreed with GAO's legal conclusions about what his spending allowances should be.

The special prosecutor, GAO's report said, had told auditors that his spending was done "in good faith as reasonably necessary." A GAO official, who declined to be identified, commented: "Nothing came to our attention to make us believe these decisions were not made in good faith."

Asked if GAO could demand that Mr. Walsh, and others who got extra payments, return the money, the official said that was legally possible, but noted that the report indicated that excess spending could be forgiven by official waiver if it would not be fair to demand repayment.

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