- The Washington Times - Monday, June 22, 2009

President Obama’s excuses for firing AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin look weaker every day. The FBI has opened an investigation into a Sacramento program formerly run by a close ally of President Obama’s, giving credence to the IG’s work.

The president fired Mr. Walpin June 11 after Mr. Walpin filed two reports critical of Obama friends. The highest-profile of the two reports focused on misuse of funds at Sacramento’s St. Hope Academy, then run by former NBA star Kevin Johnson before Mr. Johnson was elected Sacramento’s mayor in November. Mr. Johnson was a frequent stump speaker for Mr. Obama during last year’s campaign and has claimed in TV interviews to be particularly good friends with first lady Michelle Obama.

The inspector general detailed numerous irregularities in St. Hope’s use of AmeriCorps funds, including AmeriCorps grantees being used to wash Mr. Johnson’s car. Mr. Walpin complained vociferously, though, that acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence G. Brown had negotiated far too lenient a settlement of the charges against Mayor Johnson and St. Hope.

In turn, the U.S. attorney filed a complaint against Mr. Walpin, charging him with unethical behavior throughout the investigation. The White House fired Mr. Walpin long before the relevant committee would have finished its assessment of the U.S. attorney’s complaint.

As The Washington Times reported in a previous editorial, U.S. Attorney Brown’s complaint included at least two major, easily discernible errors of fact. Many other complaints against Mr. Walpin, both by Mr. Brown and by other AmeriCorps officials, were strangely petty in nature.

Now here is where the story gets really interesting. On the very same day that the president fired Mr. Walpin, St. Hope’s executive director, Rick Maya, left his job at St. Hope. He did not go quietly. His resignation letter charged Mr. Johnson and several St. Hope board members with numerous ethical violations. Most explosively, he charged that a board member improperly deleted e-mails of Mr. Johnson’s that already were under a federal subpoena.

Suddenly, the problems at St. Hope begin to look as severe as Mr. Walpin had charged rather than being minor infractions.

On Wednesday, the Sacramento Bee reported that Mr. Maya’s allegations have been deemed serious enough that the FBI is investigating potential obstruction of justice at St. Hope. In that light, the firing of Mr. Walpin, who properly blew the whistle on mismanagement and possible corruption, looks ill-considered.

Early last week, Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Sen. Claire McCaskill, Missouri Democrat, publicly questioned the White House handling of the firing, as did Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican. On Thursday, Sen. Orrin G. Hatch, Utah Republican, and Sen. Michael B. Enzi, Wyoming Republican, sent a strongly worded letter to the White House indicating serious reservations about whether the administration had abided by the laws governing inspectors general.

It also was learned last week that the White House is involved in major disputes with two other inspectors general who were poking around the administration’s business, including Neil M. Barofsky, whose job is to serve as watchdog for spending the $787 billion in controversial economic bailout funds.

All of this suggests that the purported White House mistreatment of independent inspectors general is a scandal that might have real legs. As well it should.