'Bullying' ambassador loses Obama's favour


Los Angeles

A wealthy supporter of President Barack Obama, who was parachuted into the enviable job of US ambassador to Luxembourg, has quit after a damning report accused her of filing dodgy expense claims and being "aggressive, bullying, hostile and intimidating" towards staff.

Cynthia Stroum displayed a distinct lack of diplomacy during her year in the tiny European nation, according to inspectors from the State Department. Instead, her uniquely "confrontational management style" is said to have brought the embassy to a "state of dysfunction".

The 66-page report, described as "sensitive but unclassified", was published yesterday, making eye-opening revelations about Ms Stroum's year in office. She appears to have devoted the lion's share of her energies to securing perks that might improperly subsidise her high-maintenance lifestyle.

Staff who questioned her priorities were shouted at and told that private emails would be screened, causing stress levels to rise to such a degree that medical personnel were dispatched from Washington. Four employees quit, or sought transfers to what they considered to be more pleasant pastures: US embassies in Iraq and Afghanistan.

"The bulk of the mission's internal problems are linked to her leadership deficiencies, the most damaging of which is an abusive management style," the report said. "She has followed a pattern of public criticism of colleagues... Those who have questioned or challenged some of the ambassador's actions state that they have paid a heavy price in the form of verbal abuse and been threatened with dismissal."

Ms Stroum, a philanthropist from Seattle who raised about $500,000 for President Obama's election campaign, was "obsessed with creature comforts", hiring expensive builders to improve the state of the bathroom and facilities in her official residence.

Then there was the case of the mattress. Shortly after arriving in office she declared herself: "Not pleased with the condition of the [residence's] mattress," saying that she "preferred a queen bed to the king-size bed already provided," the report claims.

Ms Stroum then twice attempted to get reimbursed for the purchase of such a bed. But her expense claims were turned down on both occasions, "as the queen-size mattress was a personal choice" and therefore should not be paid for by the US taxpayer.

Despite that rule, Ms Stroum eventually browbeat her acting deputy mission chief into signing off her claim. The inspector general's report said that this expense payment clearly violated official guidelines.

Elsewhere, one of the embassy's full-time employees was instructed to devote six weeks to acting as a personal estate agent for Ms Stroum, who needed a temporary residence while the work on her bathroom was carried out.

Under Ms Stroum, the Luxembourg Embassy failed dismally in its official duties, which include issuing US visas and attempting to influence EU policy, claims the report. But the ambassador was at least able to host some decent cocktail parties: she purchased $3,400 in wine and spirits a day before the 2010 budget year ended.

Ms Stroum quit her post last week – after the report was written, but before it became public. "The reality is that I now need to focus on my family and personal business," she said then. Reporters who called her Seattle home with further queries yesterday were told that she was unavailable for comment.

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