Will Obama's Firing of an Inspector General Evolve Into a Major Scandal?
Last Wednesday a man named Gerald Walpin, a U.S. inspector general investigating the possible misuse of Americorps funds, received a call from the White House informing him of his firing, a firing some believe was politically motivated and highly illegal.
By law the President has the power to fire inspectors general, high ranking officials whose jobs require them to audit and investigate fraud within the government independent from influence by the executive and legislative branches, but Walpin claims that he was fired without warning, which would be a clear violation of the 2008 Inspectors General Reform Act, a law requiring the president to provide Congress with a written explanation of cause a minimum of 30 days before firing an inspector general. By all accounts currently available, the White House did not do this. Walpin said that he was called by someone in the White House counsel's office and was told he had one hour to resign or be fired. When Walpin refused to resign, Obama sent letters to the House and Senate saying that he was firing Walpin, effective 30 days from the date of the letters, in which he provided this explanation as motivation for the firing:
"It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as Inspectors General. That is no longer the case with regard to this Inspector General."
Now, whether or not having the "fullest confidence" in someone is a reasonable explanation for firing an inspector general is open to debate, but vague details provided in Obama's letters have led some to believe that the law may have been broken in carrying out Walpin's abrupt dismissal. In a rather cruel twist of irony, Obama was a co-sponsor of the Inspectors General Reform Act, so Walpin and others are essentially alleging that Obama is guilty of breaking a law he helped to write.
All of this of course leads to other questions, not the least of which is what was behind Obama's abrupt firing of Walpin, an elderly man who, by most accounts that we've read, has a long history of esteemed service as a government employee and in the private sector. He is a Republican, but doesn't appear to be an ideologue. He has worked to convict Republicans of wrong-doing over the course of his career, including some in the Nixon administration, and he claims that he'd been actually helping the White House prepare Sonia Sotomayor, a person he said he admires greatly, for her upcoming confirmation hearings.
Naturally, the conservative media is beginning to buzz about this and there are theories being floated by the right as to what Obama's motivations may have been. Byron York, who's been covering this story for the Washington Examiner, floats the cronyism theory.
The bigger question is why the president is doing this and why he is attempting to do it so quickly. Senate sources now believe Obama is firing Walpin over Walpin's investigation of Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and a prominent supporter of the president.
Johnson, now the mayor of Sacramento, California, started a non-profit organization called St. Hope. The group's mission, according to its website, is "to revitalize inner-city communities through public education, civic leadership, economic development and the arts." As part of its work, St. Hope received a grant of about $850,000 from AmeriCorps.
Last year, Walpin began an investigation of how Johnson's group spent the money. According to the Associated Press, "[Walpin] found that Johnson, a former all-star point guard for the Phoenix Suns, had used AmeriCorps grants to pay volunteers to engage in school-board political activities, run personal errands for Johnson and even wash his car." Walpin asked federal prosecutors to investigate. In April, the U.S. attorney in Sacramento, a Bush holdover, declined to file any criminal charges in the matter and also criticized Walpin's investigation.
That might suggest that St. HOPE was OK, and it was Walpin who was in the wrong. But at the same time prosecutors decided not to file any charges against St. HOPE, the U.S. attorney's office also entered into a settlement with St. HOPE in which the group also agreed to pay back about half of the $850,000 it had received from AmeriCorps.
The bottom line is that the AmeriCorps IG accused a prominent Obama supporter of misusing AmeriCorps grant money. After an investigation, the prominent Obama supporter had to pay back more than $400,000 of that grant money. And Obama fired the AmeriCorps IG.
York's reporting on this matter and his cronyism theory have been gaining steam in the conservative blogosphere and on right-wing talk radio, which in turn has led the Obama-bashing pundits at Fox News to slowly begin to report on this (Glenn Beck interviewed Walpin and Byron York on his show last night.) Naturally, they are also using the MSM's non-reporting of the issue as evidence of yet another "liberal media" conspiracy to appease King Obama.
In Congress, staggeringly illiterate Senator Chuck Grassley has been banging the drums of congressional investigation, demanding the administration answer questions about Walpin's firing, including Michelle Obama's possible role in the whole affair.
Subsequently, the White House admitted to Grassley that the whole Kevin Johnson/St. HOPE investigation was the reason they ultimately decided to fire Walpin, claiming in a letter that they believed him to be guilty of "misconduct." They went on to say that he basically acted like a dick throughout the time he was conducting his investigation, but hasn't really offered up any more information on the matter.
Even if Walpin did carry out his work in a manner that stepped on the toes of others, there does appear to be a possible violation of the law in the way that his firing was carried out. No statements or data supplied by the White House thus far seems to offer an explanation that absolves them over their handling the matter inappropriately.
With that said, expect to be hearing a lot more about Gerald Walpin in the near future. The modern Republican party is floundering desperately in a search for relevance at this point, and you get the sense that they're beginning to smell some blood in the water here, not to mention the fact that there do seem to be some legitimate questions in need of answering by the Obama White House on this matter.