WASHINGTON – A key Catholic supporter of President Barack Obama complained Friday that a government audit criticizing his work as the U.S. ambassador to Malta reflects some State Department officials' hostility toward expressions of his religious faith.
The report by the department's inspector general rebuked Douglas Kmiec for spending too much time writing and speaking about subjects such as abortion and his religious beliefs, while neglecting ambassadorial duties. Kmiec was a well-known conservative law professor and commentator before being appointed ambassador in 2009.
Kmiec said he would not apologize for how he has conducted himself in the job.
"I must say that I am troubled and saddened that a handful of individuals within my department in Washington seem to manifest a hostility to expressions of faith and efforts to promote better interfaith understanding," Kmiec said in an e-mailed statement to The Associated Press. "Our constitution proudly protects the free exercise of religion — even for ambassadors."
Thursday's audit was the second critical assessment of a politically appointed ambassador this year and illustrates the pitfalls that presidents can face when they appoint non-career diplomats to ambassadorships, often as a reward for their political support.
A February report blasted the 14-month tenure of Cynthia Stroum, a superstar Obama donor who became ambassador to Luxembourg, describing it as 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 was made public.
This week's audit said 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 acknowledged the wide respect for Kmiec in the conservative, Roman Catholic country of Malta, but said his articles distract him and his embassy officials by forcing them to carefully review his writing. They've upset administration officials in Washington, too, it noted.
Kmiec said the criticism of his outspoken religious views was "especially odd" because his friendship with Obama began out of a common view that "too much of politics had been used to divide us, sometimes by excluding people of faith." Kmiec, a law professor at Pepperdine University and a lawyer in President Ronald Reagan's administration, was targeted by conservative Catholics and denied Communion by one priest for his support for Obama during the presidential campaign.
Kmiec, 59, said his work was part of Obama's efforts to promote understanding among different religions, and that he'll stay on as ambassador as long as he has the president's confidence.
The embassy in Malta's capital has recently played an enhanced role as the nearest European country to Libya. More than 180 Americans were ferried to Malta when strongman Moammar Gadhafi's forces violently cracked down on protesters seeking an end to his four-decade regime.
Kmiec said embassy staff produced "truly excellent work" in helping the evacuees, enforcing sanctions against Gadhafi's government and providing humanitarian assistance to rebel-held areas of Libya.
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