The nastiest administration spent much time going after Gerald Walpin, who until a few weeks ago was the inspector general for AmeriCorps. Walpin’s claim was that he was fired because he made the mistake of Investigation a friend of Obama (FOB), Kevin Johnson former NBA star who is now mayor of Sacramento, California, for the misuse of AmeriCorps funds.
Because he was investigating the president’s friends, Walpin, whose position as an inspector general is supposed to be protected from political appointees and the White House, was fired. Pressed for a reasoning for the dismissal the Administration said the IG seemed “disoriented” at one meeting.
Now Walpin’s story has received confirmation as one of AmeriCorps board members says he was fired to protect the Democrats from a political scandal:
AmeriCorps feared bad press if IG investigation continued
By: Byron York
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One of the mysteries surrounding President Obama’s firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin is what prompted the White House, supported by the board of directors of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, to try to get rid of Walpin so quickly and quietly?
On the evening of Wednesday, June 10, an official of the White House counsel’s office called Walpin to tell him he had one hour to resign or be fired. The action flew in the face of a law (sponsored by Barack Obama when he was a senator) that requires the president to give Congress 30 days’ notice, plus cause, when he intends to fire an IG. In this case, the White House apparently wanted to dispatch Walpin quickly by pushing him to resign, which would not have required the president to go through the congressional notification process. Instead, Walpin refused to quit, and only then did the White House tell Congress.
Why the rush? Walpin had certainly displeased the board by his aggressive investigation into the misuse of AmeriCorps funds by Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star who is now mayor of Sacramento, California and a prominent supporter of President Obama. Prior to his election as mayor, Johnson ran an educational organization called St. HOPE, which received $850,000 in AmeriCorps money. Walpin discovered that Johnson and St. HOPE had failed to use the federal money for the purposes specified in the grant and had also used federally-funded AmeriCorps staff for, among other things, “driving [Johnson] to personal appointments, washing his car, and running personal errands.”
Walpin recommended that Johnson be banned from ever receiving any more federal funds. But after the passage of the $787 billion stimulus bill, amid worries that such a ban on the mayor would keep Sacramento from receiving its share of the stimulus cash, the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service reached an agreement with the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento under which Johnson would repay some of the mis-spent money and also be eligible to receive new federal grants in the future. Walpin strongly objected to the agreement. (Knowing his opposition, the board excluded him from the negotiations.)
Walpin’s objections were the subject of a now-controversial May 20 meeting in which Walpin, to use his term, “lectured” the board on what he believed was its mistake in approving the Johnson settlement. On the morning of the meeting, the Sacramento Bee reported that a man named Rick Maya, who worked with Kevin Johnson in the St. HOPE project, claimed that Johnson’s emails had been deleted during the time of Walpin’s investigation. The Maya news suggested that there might have been obstruction of justice in the St. HOPE affair, and Walpin used it to drive home his point that the board should have let his investigation stand.
It appears the discussion of the St. HOPE matter was a turning point not only in the May 20 meeting but in Walpin’s tenure at the Corporation. In a recent interview, a Republican member of the Corporation board told me that Walpin told board members at the meeting that he wanted to issue some sort of public statement to the effect that there should be more investigation of the St. HOPE matter. “He said, ‘I feel so strongly about this that today I am going to issue a statement to the press calling for further investigation,'” the member said, recalling Walpin’s words. “The board members all caught that. Several of us wrote down that he was going to be issuing a statement to the press that afternoon.”
It was a distressing scenario for the board. As a favorite program of Barack and Michelle Obama, AmeriCorps was enjoying a higher profile than ever before. The Corporation also stood to receive vast amounts of new funding from the $5.7 billion Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which would triple the size of AmeriCorps. And in the midst of that, here was the agency’s inspector general saying he might re-open an investigation into an embarrassing episode involving hundreds of thousands of mis-spent dollars and a politically prominent supporter of the president.
“Right now, when there is such a great emphasis on service, we did not need any press out there on this St. HOPE matter, which was already settled,” the board member told me. “We thought he was going to use the press…He had an issue with the fact that a settlement was reached…and he was doing everything he could to continue to keep the issue at the forefront.”
As it turned out, Walpin did not issue any statement, to the press or anyone else. (He doesn’t recall whether he said precisely what the board member recalls, although, he told me, “There wouldn’t have been anything wrong if I had.”) Instead, Walpin contacted the FBI in Sacramento with word of the Maya allegations, and agents there are now investigating the matter.
Later in the meeting, members questioned Walpin about his intentions. It was at that point that they say Walpin became confused and disoriented. But whatever Walpin’s demeanor, it appears that board members, of both parties, were worried about the possibility of embarrassing new revelations involving a sensational case they thought had been closed. After the meeting, the board began an accelerated effort to remove Walpin, compiling an informal list of grievances against him — he could be difficult, he telecommuted, he was somehow disabled — that the White House would ultimately cite as cause for his firing. But there is no doubt that, whatever the other reasons, the board feared that a revival of a scandal they thought was in the past would be embarrassing to the newly-prominent AmeriCorps.