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Issa urges firing of Amtrak chief, counsel

Rockefeller disputes claims of railroading of inspector general

Thomas Carper, chairman of Amtrak's board of directors, is under fire from a California congressman, who is calling for his ouster, along with that of the passenger-rail service's general counsel. (Associated Press)Thomas Carper, chairman of Amtrak’s board of directors, is under fire from a California congressman, who is calling for his ouster, along with that of the passenger-rail service’s general counsel. (Associated Press)
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A powerful House Republican wants Amtrak's chairman and top lawyer fired.

Rep. Darrell Issa of California, chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said in a recent letter to Sen. John D. Rockefeller IV that both Amtrak Chairman Thomas Carper and General Counsel Eleanor Acheson "unlawfully interfered" with the independence of the rail agency's Office of Inspector General.

Mr. Issa's firing call comes months after he and Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, released a joint investigation that accused Amtrak of violating federal rules by failing to inform Congress about the 2009 removal of the rail agency's longtime inspector general, Fred Weiderhold.

The report also said Mr. Weiderhold was targeted by Amtrak officials because of his record of exposing waste and fraud, including investigations into the Amtrak law department.

"I believe that the actions of chairman Carper and [general counsel] Acheson are sufficiently egregious as to merit their removal," Mr. Issa wrote in a Jan. 19 letter to Mr. Rockefeller, West Virginia Democrat, who as chairman of the Senate Commerce, Science and Transportation oversees Amtrak.

Mr. Rockefeller disagreed.

"Chairman Issa's letter fails to address the significant omissions in his own report," Senate Commerce Committee spokeswoman Jena Longo said Friday.

"While it's nice that Chairman Issa is enthused about oversight, it is irresponsible to call for the removal of federal officials without presenting the full story," she said. "His allegations on Amtrak are part of a pattern of making allegations that don't stand up to careful scrutiny."

In his own report last year, Mr. Rockefeller said the Grassley-Issa report had omitted information, including a 2009 letter sent to Mr. Carper from four former Amtrak chairmen and presidents.

In that letter, the former Amtrak executives charged that Mr. Weiderhold had been in his job far longer than any other federal inspector general and that he'd turned the position into a "personal fiefdom" while creating a climate of fear.

Mr. Grassley has defended the report.

In his letter, Mr. Issa said both Democratic and Republican investigators alike questioned Ms. Acheson's denials about involvement in Mr. Weiderhold's removal in 2009.

"Democratic and Republican committee staff asked Acheson in a number of different ways to describe what she knew about Weiderhold's departure," Mr. Issa wrote. "After several follow-up questions, [General Counsel] Acheson flatly denied any knowledge or involvement, stating that 'I know nothing about Fred's retirement.'"

But, according to Mr. Issa, evidence surfaced during the congressional probe that Ms. Acheson participated in the preparation and review of a separation package and retirement documents for Mr. Weiderhold. Mr. Issa's letter was first reported by the National Journal.

"After this information came to light, Democratic and Republican investigators had telephone discussions and exchanged e-mail about how they agreed that GC Acheson had denied involvement in or knowledge of the plan to remove IG Weiderhold," Mr. Issa disclosed in his letter.

An unnamed senior Democratic staffer confirmed as much in a July 31, 2009, e-mail to a Republican staff member, according to Mr. Issa. The staffer wrote, "That was my impression too, that she was telling us she had nothing to do with [IG Weiderhold's removal] and [his removal] was news to her."

Asked to respond to Mr. Issa's letter, Amtrak officials said in a statement Friday that the rail agency has cooperated with "numerous entities" that have reviewed Mr. Weiderhold's departure.

"Amtrak will cooperate fully with any other inquiry into this matter," Amtrak said in the statement.

Mr. Issa's letter also said Amtrak was being investigated by the U.S. Postal Service's Office of Inspector General for possible misuse of Amtrak's e-mail system.

Mr. Carper was named Amtrak chairman in January 2009, after about a year on its board of directors. He was mayor of Macomb, Ill., from 1991 to 2003. Ms. Acheson, a big Democratic donor, was an assistant attorney general in the Justice Department during the Clinton administration and has worked in private practice.

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