Fired IG Gerald Walpin Files Suit
Updated 6:17 p.m. ET
The inspector general fired last month by President Obama has filed suit in federal court seeking reinstatement to his job as top watchdog at the Corporation for National and Community Service.
In a suit filed late Friday at U.S. District Court in Washington, Gerald Walpin argued his removal was unlawful because it violated protections afforded to inspectors general by the 2008 Inspector General Act. The law states that the president must inform lawmakers 30 days before an inspector general's removal and must cite reasons for the firing. Walpin and Republican critics allege the White House did not follow the law, even though then-Sen. Obama co-sponsored the legislation.
“I am bringing this lawsuit primarily to protect the system of inspectors general, which cannot remain viable without insulation from political and other interference," Walpin said in a statement. "While I also am troubled at the mud-slinging lengths those who sought my removal have gone to attempt, belatedly, to rationalize their actions, the most important objective of this lawsuit is to prevent a successful illegal removal of one inspector general from being used as a precedent for other similar interferences."
Walpin's suit names three top CNCS officials as defendants: Acting CEO Nicola O. Goren, Human Resources Director Raymond Limon and General Counsel Frank Trinity. Dozens of memos, e-mails and meeting notes released in early July revealed the often contentious relationship between Walpin, Goren and Trinity that ended with his June dismissal.
In response, White House spokesman Josh Earnest said, "The administration has complied fully with the Inspector General Reform Act. The bipartisan leadership of the Senate committee that oversees IG's agrees. We strongly believe these claims are without merit and will be rejected by the courts."
Following criticism from a bipartisan chorus of lawmakers concerned about Walpin's dismissal, the White House sent lawmakers a letter explaining that he appeared confused, disoriented and unable to answer questions at a late May agency board meeting. Since then, the White House Counsel's Office and CNCS officials have presented lawmakers with other cases of allegedly improper or questionable behavior, including several memos, e-mails and a mock newsletter that included sexually- and racially-insensitive material.
Sens. Joseph I. Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine) -- who raised questions about the firing in their role as chairman and ranking member of the Governmental Affairs Committee -- thanked the White House for its explanation, but continues to review the matter, according to spokespeople. (NOTE: This sentence previously said the senators supported the president's decision. Their offices remind The Eye that they're still investigating the matter. We apologize for the error.)
Walpin and Republican critics say however that the information presented is weak and that the administration appears to be clinging to a series of inconsequential human resources issues and petty personal differences rather than any solid examples that present a case for removal.
The Corporation for National and Community Service operates the AmeriCorps, Senior Corps and VISTA programs. First lady Michelle Obama's former chief of staff joined the agency earlier this month as a senior adviser. The agency is also overseeing a summer-long national service campaign launched by the White House.
The controversy surrounding Walpin's dismissal stems from an investigation conducted by his office last year 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 settled the case earlier this year, against Walpin's wishes. His relationship with agency leadership and its board of directors dissolved as he threatened to raise his objections in the news media and then appeared to back away from the threats during the late May board meeting.
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