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When Is a $16 Muffin Not a $16 Muffin?

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The great $16 muffin scandal at the Justice Department has taken another turn.

The Associated Press reports that Hilton Worldwide, accused in a DOJ inspector general report of charging the extravagant muffin prices at a 2009 legal training conference in Washington, says IG auditors misinterpreted its invoices. The prices it charged included not just baked goods but fresh fruit, coffee, tea, soft drinks, tax and tips.

"Dining receipts are often abbreviated and do not reflect the full pre-contracted menu and service provided, as is the case with recent media reports of breakfast items approved for some government meetings," Hilton Worldwide officials said in a statement.

Even before Hilton issued its response, Kevin Drum of Mother Jones was skeptical of the tale of the overpriced muffin on Wednesday. After reviewing the IG report, he wrote:

So did DOJ really pay $16 for muffins? Of course not. In fact, it's obvious that someone quite carefully calculated the amount they were allowed to spend and then gave the hotel a budget. The hotel agreed, but for some reason decided to divide up the charges into just a few categories instead of writing a detailed invoice for every single piece of food they provided.

Of course, none of that is going to stop politicians from going on TV to call for the heads of "bureaucrats" who suffer from "elitism":

(Hat tips: Politico, Talking Points Memo)

Tom Shoop is vice president and editor in chief at Government Executive Media Group, where he oversees both print and online editorial operations. He started as associate editor of Government Executive magazine in 1989; launched the company’s flagship website, GovExec.com, in 1996; and was named editor in chief in 2007.

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