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EDITORIAL: Obama’s sacked inspector general

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Even as congressional investigators demolish White House explanations for its firing last summer of a key inspector general, new documents show that an entire second area of misleading administration statements has gone largely unexplored. Each new revelation in the case suggests that Gerald Walpin, the fired IG for the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), ought to be reinstated to his job.

We'll get to that second area of dispute in a few moments; it's a doozy. First, though, because this is all rather confusing, a review of the particulars is in order.

By law, inspectors general can be "removed" by the president only with 30 days' notice to Congress that is accompanied by an explanation for the removal. The goal is to protect the independence of the IGs. However, after Mr. Walpin issued two reports critical of close allies of the Obama White House, he was removed by a phone call, without prior notice, on June 10 and placed on administrative leave, without access to his office or his e-mails. Only the next day was Congress told, without explanation, that he had been fired. On June 16, the White House finally and belatedly provided several members of Congress with more explanations. None of those explanations has held up.

The Obama administration said Mr. Walpin appeared "confused" or "disoriented" at a May 20 CNCS board meeting, raising questions about his competence. However, not a single shred of evidence, before or since, has emerged to suggest any lack of mental acuity by Mr. Walpin.

The administration said the board was dissatisfied that Mr. Walpin often telecommuted between New York and Washington. However, the telecommuting arrangement was, by design, an experiment to be reviewed at the end of June anyway. Nobody, not even once, has identified any work that fell through the cracks because of the arrangement.

The administration made much of an ethics complaint filed against Mr. Walpin by the acting U.S. Attorney in Sacramento, Calif., but the complaint itself contained flagrant inaccuracies. In October, it was formally and summarily dismissed by the Integrity Committee of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.

Meanwhile, Mr. Walpin's most contentious charges against political allies of President Obama's have held up quite well. He said Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson had misused AmeriCorps funds for private services. That was true. He said the arrangements for Mr. Johnson and his previous nonprofit organization to repay the government were weak. They were. He said there appeared to have been an attempt to cover up e-mail evidence in Mr. Johnson's case. The FBI indeed found reason to investigate that matter.

Finally, a report prepared by Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, and Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, disclosed a previously unknown controversy involving allegations that Mr. Johnson had made inappropriate sexual advances to AmeriCorps workers. Officials testified that D.C. Schools Superintendent Michelle A. Rhee, now Mr. Johnson's fiancee, said she would intervene in the case and that shortly thereafter, other officials offered the purported victims what appeared to be "hush money."

Finally, on Friday afternoon, the White House released a portion (but only a portion) of the remaining documents requested by Mr. Grassley for his investigation. Those documents seem to show the administration scrambling in the days after the firing to come up with a justification for having done so.

Here is where the new, largely unexplored second area of dispute arises. In addition to the report about Mr. Johnson, Mr. Walpin had issued a report critical of one of the largest of all AmeriCorps programs, a teaching fellowship at the City University of New York (CUNY) that Mr. Walpin said wasted "upwards of $80 million of taxpayer money." Other than in a June 16 editorial in The Washington Times, the report on the CUNY program has gone almost entirely overlooked.

Yet just two days after Mr. Walpin was removed from his job, as the administration hustled to try to find retroactive justification for the firing, CNCS press aide Ranit Schmelzer drafted, for distribution to all CNCS board members, a memo of "suggested guidance in the event you get press calls on IG Walpin." At that time, all reports on the matter had focused on the Sacramento case alone. Yet the Schmelzer memo, in a strange fit of defensiveness, included this talking point: "If asked whether this was connected to Walpin's action in the CUNY case, say no. The decision was made before Walpin's reports on CUNY were issued."

That is false. On April 2, Mr. Walpin's office issued its draft report on CUNY, which was critical of both CUNY and of the CNCS board for lax oversight. On April 30, CUNY responded. On May 4, the CNCS management responded. On May 5, Mr. Walpin told Senate staff that he feared CNCS management would "retaliate" against him. On May 20, before Mr. Walpin supposedly became "disoriented" at the board meeting, the major reason for the contentiousness of the meeting was that Mr. Walpin excoriated the board for its failures related to CUNY. On June 4, the IG issued his final report on the CUNY matter. Yet the White House did not fire Mr. Walpin until June 10.

How, pray tell, could it be that "the decision [to fire Mr. Walpin] was made before Walpin's reports on CUNY were issued" if the reports were issued on April 2, May 20, and June 4, while the firing came on June 10? And why would the memo specify that the board members should "say no" about the CUNY connection while the memo mentioned not a word about a single other specific, potential line of press questions?

This looks like the classic case in which an administration "doth protest too much." Defensiveness about one issue, and only one, when nobody has yet raised the issue, is often a telltale sign that there is something to hide. This is especially the case when the information provided is demonstrably false.

Former White House counsel Bernard W. Nussbaum, who served under former Democratic President Bill Clinton, had this to say last week: "I think the Obama administration made a mistake here." He's right, and it's a big mistake at that.

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