President Obama fired a Bush-era inspector general last week despite the administration's use of the former prosecutor as an adviser in the nomination of Supreme Court nominee Sonia Sotomayor.
Gerald Walpin, a 2006 Bush appointee who reviewed grants awarded by AmeriCorps and other national service programs, said he assumed the telephone call he received Thursday evening from White House counsel Norman L. Eisen was for another chat about Judge Sotomayor.
To his shock, the call instead was a telephonic pink slip.
"The White House had been calling me on several occasions to help with the Sonia Sotomayor nomination, so I thought it was related to that," Mr. Walpin said. My termination "came out of the blue."
Mr. Walpin, a self-described conservative, nonetheless has been a strong supporter of Judge Sotomayor since at least 1998, when he publicly endorsed her successful nomination by President Clinton to the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New York.
Mr. Walpin, 77, is a former federal prosecutor widely known in New York legal circles. Judge Sotomayor served as a U.S. District Court judge in New York from 1992 to 1998.
"I did tell Judge Sotomayor that I'd be happy to be of whatever help I could be again," Mr. Walpin said. "I still plan to support her because I think she's a fine nominee."
Despite his sudden firing, he said he will continue to work with the White House on the judge's nomination if asked.
The administration said it fired Mr. Walpin because the president had lost confidence in him. He is the only one of 69 statutory inspector generals (IGs) that has been fired.
Mr. Walpin had only weeks earlier submitted two reports highly critical of the agency he was charged to oversee; the Corporation for National and Community Service, an independent agency of the federal government.
One of the reports dealt with the agency's handling of a case involving suspicions of misuse of federal grant money by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA basketball star and an Obama supporter.
Mr. Walpin said he has "absolutely" no doubt that his firing was retaliation for his sharp criticism of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS) and for clashes with its Obama-appointed chairman, Alan Solomont, a Democrat.
"I have not heard that [Mr. Obama] has attempted to terminate any other IG," he said. "It is only an IG, as I know, that has issued two reports critical of an agency now headed by somebody he appointed."
Yet Mr. Solomont isn't the only official inside or outside CNCS to question Mr. Walpin's professional tactics, as Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican and agency's vice chairman, has backed the president's decision to fire Mr. Walpin.
Sacramento's Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence G. Brown also has sharply criticized Mr. Walpin's handling of his investigation of Mr. Johnson and a nonprofit group he ran.
The highly publicized case accused St. Hope Academy - founded by Mr. Johnson - of mishandling some of the $850,000 it received in CNCS grants, which came out during the Sacramento mayoral race. The report said Mr. Johnson used grants to pay volunteers to engage in school board political activities and to run personal errands for Mr. Johnson.
St. Hope Academy has promised to repay about half of the money.
Mr. Brow accused Mr. Walpin of overstating conclusions in his investigation, withholding information to the U.S. attorney's office and for publicizing the case in the press when he should have keep matters confidential.
But the Senate Finance Committee's top Republican, Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, has denounced Mr. Walpin's termination and praised him for identifying millions of dollars in wasted or misspent grants.
"It appears he had been doing his job," the senator said. "We cannot afford to have inspector general independence threatened."