EDITORIAL: Walpin-gate may snag Mrs. Obama

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No inspector general can unearth corruption without access to his office, computer or staff. An “administrative leave” putting an IG in that position has the same effect, for all intents and purposes, as an immediate firing. That’s the basic logic behind former Inspector General Gerald Walpin’s lawsuit demanding at least temporary reinstatement to his job as watchdog at the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS). New revelations about the case from two lawmakers indicate that there is good reason to suspect duplicity from those who helped force Mr. Walpin’s overnight removal in June.

In the past 10 days, two major developments have occurred. First, Obama administration attorneys continued their efforts to deny Mr. Walpin his day in court. On Dec. 7, they filed reply briefs rearguing their demand that the case be dismissed without even a hearing. Second, Rep. Darrell Issa of California and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, both Republicans, have openly questioned the honesty of CNCS Chairman Alan D. Solomont. Most explosively of all, dirty deeds may have been employed to hide extensive involvement in the affair by the office of first lady Michelle Obama, whom the White House months earlier had announced would play “a central role in the national service agenda.”

Mr. Walpin’s suit claims that President Obama did not abide by the requirement in the Inspector General Act that IGs be given 30 days’ notice before being “removed” from office. Mr. Walpin instead was placed on “paid administrative leave” for 30 days. The new administration brief argues that such “leave” does not constitute “removal.”

Mr. Walpin’s suit explained that the entire reason for the 30-day-notice requirement is to ward off political interference with ongoing investigations. The administrative leave that denied him access to all the tools of his job, he contended, effectively “removed” him just as he was following up on two reports extremely critical of close allies of the Obamas or of Mr. Solomont.

Mr. Solomont appears to have been less than forthcoming about his conversations with the White House in urging Mr. Walpin’s firing. Mr. Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, wrote a scathing letter to Mr. Solomont on Dec. 11. Parts of it are worth quoting at length:

“After Mr. Walpin’s removal, there was speculation in the press that former Chief of Staff to the First Lady Jackie Norris may have influenced the President’s action because she left the White House to become a senior advisor at CNCS around the time of Mr. Walpin’s removal. Accordingly, Committee investigators specifically asked if you discussed any Corporation business, including the issues relating to the Corporation’s Office of Inspector General, with Ms. Norris. You indicated that you did not. … The White House announced on June 4, 2009 that Ms. Norris had been appointed Senior Advisor to the Corporation. … In light of all this, it seems highly implausible that you would meet with Ms. Norris on June 9, 2009 and not discuss the IG,” who was fired the very next day.

So, to review, Mr. Walpin on June 4 issued the second of two reports to which Mr. Solomont strongly objected. That same day, the White House announced that Mrs. Obama’s chief of staff would move over to a key role at Mr. Solomont’s agency. Mr. Solomont already had been lobbying the White House to fire Mr. Walpin. Five days later, Mr. Solomont met with that chief of staff, and Mr. Walpin was fired the next day, keeping him from being able to do any follow-up work on his two reports (or to finish a third report that was in the works). Yet Mr. Solomont reportedly claimed that he and Ms. Norris did not even discuss any CNCS business, much less anything about Mr. Walpin, at that June 9 meeting.

Mr. Issa is right to smell a rat, especially since White House aides reportedly cut short congressional staff questioning of Mr. Solomont when the line of questioning began to lead to Mrs. Obama.

That defensiveness and all the subterfuge are all the more reason, logical if not legal, for the judge in Mr. Walpin’s lawsuit not to dismiss the case. Mr. Walpin merits the opportunity in open court to explain why his “leave” without notice amounted to improper interference with his necessary work as a watchdog against malfeasance.

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