- The Washington Times - Thursday, June 18, 2009

The White House on Wednesday won over some senators who had been critical of the firing of a government watchdog, providing them with a scathing evaluation of the inspector generals performance.

In a letter to senators, an attorney for President Obama said Gerald Walpin was removed as inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNSC) after displaying questionable behavior at a May 20 corporation board meeting.

“Mr. Walpin was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the board to question his capacity to serve,” special counsel Norman Eisen said. The letter said the bipartisan corporation board asked for a review of Mr. Walpin’s actions.

Other charges included a complaint filed by a Bush-era U.S. attorney against Mr. Walpin for failing to disclose exculpatory evidence, a “lack of candor in providing material information to decision makers,” his insistence on working from home and “other troubling and inappropriate conduct.”

But Mr. Walpin on Wednesday accused the White House of “a new low.”

“I am now the target of the most powerful man in this country with an army of aides whose major responsibility today seems to be to attack me and get rid of me,” said Mr. Walpin, a 2006 Bush appointee who reviewed grants awarded by AmeriCorps and other national service programs. “I am happy to let the American people decide whether I am the described ogre or simply an American attempting to do the job that I signed up to do.”

Several lawmakers who previously voiced concern about the firing indicated that the White House’s additional reasoning appeared to pass muster. They had requested the information after the White House initially gave a two-sentence reason for its action, saying the president no longer had full confidence in him.

“The reasons given in the most recent White House letter are substantial and the decision to remove Walpin appears well-founded,” said Sen. Claire McCaskill, a Missouri Democrat and key Obama ally. Mrs. McCaskill earlier said Mr. Obama’s initial explanation was not sufficient and therefore did not satisfy a 2008 law she sponsored that requires the administration to notify Congress 30 days in advance and give cause when it fires an inspector general.

Likewise, Sen. Susan Collins, Maine Republican and ranking member of the Senate Committee on Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs, said the White House “has now complied with the law” by providing the panel with the underlying reasons for Mr. Walpin’s removal. Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent, “will continue to review the situation” and appreciates the additional explanation, spokeswoman Leslie Phillips said.

But in a line-by-line rebuttal of the White House’s case against him, Mr. Walpin said the administration is “grasping at nonexistent straws” and maintains his assertion that he was forced out for political reasons - including an investigation he undertook of an Obama supporter for potentially misusing federal service funds.

“The more diligent an IG is in reporting criticisms of the board’s running of the corporation, the more the board doesn’t want the IG there. But that is exactly why the IG position was created,” said Mr. Walpin, 77, a former federal prosecutor.

As for the May 20 meeting in which Mr. Walpin was reportedly “confused” and “disoriented,” he said board members were roiled over two critical reports he issued and would not let him finish his presentation.

Mr. Walpin has suggested his firing was retaliation for a report he issued finding that the St. Hope Academy founded by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former pro basketball star and Obama supporter, had misused federal grants received from AmeriCorps. Mr. Johnson and the academy agreed to repay half of the $847,000 in grants.

Sen. Charles E. Grassley, Iowa Republican, is also requesting documents on any role first lady Michelle Obama may have played in the firing, according to the Associated Press. Mrs. Obama’s former chief of staff, Jackie Norris, is expected to join the CNSC later this month as a senior adviser.

White House press secretary Robert Gibbs on Wednesday said Mr. Obama stands by the decision to fire Mr. Walpin but shrugged off questions about why the administration waited nearly a week to give Congress a full explanation.

“These were views that were held by many people as part of that board, and certainly the administration stands behind what’s in the letter,” he said.

Mr. Walpin told The Washington Times he would like “the White House to admit that it was wrong” and to be reinstated, “but I don’t expect that to happen.”

• Kara Rowland can be reached at krowland@washingtontimes.com.

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