Friday, July 10, 2009

President Obama’s dismissal of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin becomes more of a scandal with every White House action.

AmeriCorps is a program of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is a federal agency. Both the White House and the general counsel at the corporation have been stonewalling congressional investigators. If their actions in firing Mr. Walpin were on the up and up, they wouldn’t have anything to hide. It’s also curious that they are selectively releasing certain documents to The Washington Post within minutes of The Post’s requests after withholding those same documents (and many others) from congressional investigators for days or even weeks.

Mr. Walpin was fired on June 10 with no explanation and no warning to Congress, even though the act governing inspectors general says IGs can be removed only after the president gives Congress 30 days’ notice and a reason for the firing.

Rep. Darrell Issa, California Republican, first wrote the White House on June 15 asking for “a full and complete explanation of whom the White House consulted in order to evaluate the performance of Mr. Walpin,” among a number of other requests. Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, wrote the White House on June 17 with similar specific requests, after first raising questions about the firing on June 12. Mr. Issa wrote Corporation for National and Community Service Acting Chief Executive Officer Nicola Goren on June 26 to ask again for the information.

Neither the White House nor Ms. Goren complied with those requests in anything approaching a timely manner. Lawrence G. Brown, the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento who filed a factually inaccurate ethics complaint about Mr. Walpin, has not responded to Mr. Issa’s letter asking if the White House prompted his ethics complaint.

On the other hand, when The Post filed an official Freedom of Information Act request with the corporation on June 29 at 5:19 p.m., the corporation counsel’s office complied that same evening with a selective spate of documents somewhat favorable to the White House story line — but still without information responsive to a host of the questions from Mr. Grassley and Mr. Issa.

Then the stonewalling got worse. On June 30, White House counsel Gregory B. Craig warned Mr. Grassley, “These questions implicate core executive branch confidentiality interests.” On July 6, corporation general counsel Frank R. Trinity repeatedly refused to answer congressional investigators’ questions about the White House’s communications with his office regarding any review of Mr. Walpin’s performance.

“It’s a White House prerogative,” Mr. Trinity told staff members, according to multiple sources. Asked if he was somehow asserting “executive privilege” — a privilege not his to claim — Mr. Trinity repeated his “White House prerogative” line. Told that no such prerogative exists in law, Mr. Trinity still declined to answer. Both he and the White House continue to withhold requested, relevant documents.

It is worth noting that all of this began blowing up after Mr. Walpin had the temerity to actually do his job. He met with Mr. Issa’s staff on May 5 to advise them that the corporation had failed to act strongly enough against Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a close ally of Mr. Obama, when Mr. Johnson misused some AmeriCorps funds. Mr. Walpin then told the corporation board on May 20 that the board and top staff had adopted too much of an “anything goes” attitude regarding oversight of AmeriCorps money.

Rather than investigate the IG’s serious complaints, Mr. Obama fired him. In short, he snuffed out the whistleblower rather than heed the whistle. Now all the president’s men are trying to cover his tracks. Congress is right to keep following those tracks for evidence of White House malfeasance.

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