Lawmakers Question Obama's Dismissal of AmeriCorps IG
FINAL UPDATE TO THIS POST:
Read the White House's justifications for the dismissal in this new post.
UPDATE 7:10 p.m. ET:
In a statement, Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) says, "The White House has failed to follow the proper procedure in notifying Congress as to the removal of the Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service. The legislation which was passed last year requires that the president give a reason for the removal. ‘Loss of confidence’ is not a sufficient reason. I’m hopeful the White House will provide a more substantive rationale, in writing, as quickly as possible."
McCaskill was the lead Senate sponsor on the Inspectors General Act of 2008 and is a loyal supporter and friend of President Obama. Her statement is the first significant sign of Democratic concern with this matter.
UPDATE 5:02 p.m. ET:
Lawmakers of both parties on both sides of Capitol Hill have been in touch with the White House regarding Walpin's dismissal, according to several sources. Staffers with the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs and the House Oversight Committees are investigating the matter and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) is also expected to issue a statement shortly.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking member on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has asked the White House to provide information on Walpin's termination by June 26. Issa is most interested in a phone call Walpin received last Wednesday informing him of his termination. (See more on this below.)
"Providing material responsive to the above requests will represent an affirmative
step toward fulfilling the President's commitment to create "an unprecedented level of
openness in government," Issa wrote Monday in a letter to White House counsel Gregory Craig.
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa) has demanded that the Corporation for National and Community Service provide "any and all records, e-mail, memoranda, documents, communications, or other information" related to President Obama's no-confidence dismissal last week of the Corporation's inspector general Gerald Walpin, including any communications with aides to the president and first lady Michelle Obama.
Walpin, a registered Republican, was appointed to the post in 2007 by President George W. Bush after spending more than 30 years as a federal prosecutor and private attorney in New York City. The Corporation's board chairman Alan Solomont, a Democrat, and vice chairman Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican, strongly endorsed Obama's decision.
"In light of the removal of the Inspector General, it is vital that Congress obtain a full understanding of the role that you and your colleagues at CNCS played in these matters," Grassley wrote in his letter to Solomont, requesting he provide the information by Friday.
The Iowa Republican wants to determine if Corporation officials said anything to White House staffers about Walpin's tenure in an attempt to get him fired, according to a spokeswoman for the senator. Grassley's interest in Mrs. Obama's potential involvement comes as recent reports suggest she is involved in key decisions at the Corporation. The first lady's former chief of staff Jackie Norris was given a position as a senior adviser to the Corporation, which she is scheduled to begin next week.
The White House would not comment yesterday on the specifics of Walpin's departure, but did refute the reports regarding the first lady.
"Mrs. Obama is an energetic advocate for the mission of the Corporation for National and Community Service, but is not involved in the day-to-day management of the agency,” White House spokesman Josh Earnest said.
"The President will appoint a replacement in whom he has full confidence as the Corporation carries out its important mission," he later said.
In an interview Monday, Walpin defended his office's work and said he fears his dismissal will impact other inspectors general.
"This is an attack upon the independence of inspectors general generally," he said. "The . . . effect of this, if this is allowed to stand, is going to be immense in chilling the responsibility and actions of inspectors general to do their independent investigations," he said.
The controversy surrounding Walpin's dismissal stems from a 2008 investigation into the potential misuse of federal grants provided by AmeriCorps to the St. HOPE Academy of Sacramento, Calif. The group was founded in 1989 by former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who is now mayor of Sacramento and also is an Obama supporter.
Walpin's investigation concluded Johnson and a colleague had misused grant funding totaling approximately $850,000 on six occasions. He referred the findings to the U.S. Attorney's Office in Sacramento and government lawyers later decided not to press criminal charges. In a settlement reached earlier this year, Johnson and St. HOPE officials agreed to repay half of the grants it received from AmeriCorps.
The settlement angered Walpin, who complained that his office was not consulted after referring the case to the U.S. attorney's office. Following the settlement, acting U.S. attorney Lawrence G. Brown, also appointed by Bush, raised concerns about Walpin's conduct during the Johnson investigation with the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, an independent entity charged with investigating complaints against government watchdogs.
Brown alleged in a letter to the council that Walpin selectively withheld key information from the U.S. Attorney's Office and claimed that the IG's comments to the news media hampered his office's investigation.
In a lengthy response, Walpin refuted Brown's charges and urged the council to dismiss them, arguing they had no merit. The panel is expected to decide later this week if he committed any wrongdoing.
“I was basically fired because I was doing my job," Walpin said Monday, claiming President Obama dismissed him without specific cause.
Walpin learned of the president's decision last Wednesday evening in a telephone call from the White House counsel's office. He assumed the call was related to recent conversations with White House staffers about publicly supporting Judge Sonia Sotomayor's nomination to the Supreme Court, he said.
In 1998, Walpin issued a brief to the Senate Judiciary Committee in support of her nomination to the Court of Appeals for the Second Circuit and White House staffers had asked him in recent weeks about issuing a similar statement again, he said. Walpin said he still supports Sotomayor's nomination and said he still plans to issue a statement of support. The White House was checking Walpin's claims and could not immediately provide a comment.
In his letter to Obama, Grassley suggested the president violated provisions of the Inspector General Act of 2008 that require the president to inform Congressional leaders in writing of any plans to dismiss an IG at least 30 days before doing so.
"I was troubled to learn that...your staff reportedly issued an ultimatum to the Americorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin that he had one hour to resign or be terminated," Grassley wrote in regards to the Wednesday evening phone call. White House officials insist the phone was meant as a courtesy to inform Walpin of the president's final decision. Walpin is on suspension with pay until his termination takes effect in mid-July.
| June 16, 2009; 11:37 AM ET
Categories: Oversight, Supreme Court
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