Say it aint so, Joe. Sen. Joe Lieberman, Connecticut independent Democrat, seems to be punting away his duty to protect the independence of federal inspectors general. Mr. Lieberman is a man of integrity who takes pride in his independence. That’s why it is disappointing that he has been so quick to accept the weak White House excuses for firing AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin and to dismiss complaints about White House treatment of at least two other IGs who questioned administration conduct.
Mr. Lieberman has jurisdiction over the issue as chairman of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee. On Thursday, he issued this statement, prematurely: “There is now general agreement the administration has followed both the spirit and the letter of the law with respect to notice. Through two letters and oral briefings, the White House has communicated a number of concerns with Mr. Walpin’s conduct as Inspector General.”
Surely the senator is not so credulous. The first White House letter about the firing merely asserted a loss of presidential confidence in Mr. Walpin. The belated second letter cited an exceedingly vague series of “troubling and inappropriate conduct” - while the White House itself verged on improper age discrimination by claiming the 77-year-old Mr. Walpin was “disoriented” and “confused” at a May 20 meeting. It also cited an allegation that Mr. Walpin improperly withheld relevant information concerning his investigation into misuse of funds by Sacramento, Calif., Mayor Kevin Johnson, a pal of President Obama’s.
If Mr. Lieberman reviews all the charges, he will find them seriously lacking.
If purported confusion at one meeting on May 20 were such an issue, why is there no other example of Mr. Walpins supposed incapacity either before or since? If officials were worried about his health, why did nobody follow up in the weeks after that meeting to see if any underlying medical issue existed - or exhibit the decency of later ascertaining whether the man was OK?
On the withholding of certain memos, it turns out that the supposed “withholding” occurred at a meeting Mr. Walpin did not attend - but at which, we are told, his staff discussed with other investigators the memos in question. So it wasn’t as if they, much less Mr. Walpin, were deliberately trying to conceal anything.
It is true that the White House acted only after the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service unanimously recommended, after the May 20 meeting, that Mr. Walpin be relieved. However, that recommendation isn’t surprising. Mr. Walpin had excoriated the board for poor oversight of AmeriCorps. When the constable says the security guard was asleep on his watch, the guard obviously resents it.
Inspectors general are quasi-independent watchdogs who are supposed to be removed only for solid reasons. The Washington Times has reviewed volumes of documents on the matter, and we haven’t found a legitimate justification for the firing.
Mr. Lieberman’s spokesman told us committee staff will continue to review the matter. This review should not be perfunctory. Mr. Lieberman personally ought to interview Mr. Walpin. A public hearing should follow to assess the highly unusual firing of this man, who spent decades building an excellent reputation for probity and good judgment.
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