On Friday a report was issued by two Republican Senators contending that the Obama White House was politically motivated when it fired inspector general Gerald Walpin after his 2008 investigation of Kevin Johnson, friend of the Obamas, and now Sacramento’s mayor. The report by Congressman Issa and Senator Grassley criticizes the White House ethics counsel, for not examining what Walpin had been investigating at the time of his dismissal, including the allegations of sexual misconduct by Johnson and hush-money used to cover up the misconduct. The report asserted that Michelle Rhee, now Johnson’s fiancee, made the payoffs.
Yesterday documents were found which show that immediately after Mr. Walpin was fired the White House came up with ways to smear Walpin, to cover up the political basis for the firing.
Gerald Walpin has now weighed and says that Johnson’s fixer, Ms Rhee also went to the IG in an attempt remove the heat from her future fiancee:
Inspector General: Rhee visited me to intervene for Johnson
By: Byron York
Chief Political Correspondent
November 24, 2009
On June 27, 2008, Michelle Rhee, head of the Washington, D.C., school system, paid a visit to Gerald Walpin, who was inspector general of the government volunteer organization AmeriCorps.
At the time, Walpin was investigating a California private school known as St. Hope, which was founded by Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star and friend of Rhee’s who was running for mayor of Sacramento. St. Hope had received about $850,000 in AmeriCorps money, and Walpin’s investigators were looking into charges that Johnson had misused those funds by assigning paid volunteer tutors to run errands for him and wash his car, as well as making them take part in political activities.
In the course of the investigation, some young female AmeriCorps volunteers also charged that Johnson had made inappropriate sexual advances toward them and offered one of them $1,000 a month to keep quiet.
Rhee, who later became engaged to marry Johnson, had been on St. Hope’s board of directors before taking over as chief of the District of Columbia system. Her apparent goal, as she visited Walpin, was to vouch for Johnson.
“The basic point of her meeting with me was to tell me what a great guy he was,” Walpin recalls, “and what wonderful work he has done, and that maybe he had made mistakes administratively, but that she thought I should give as much consideration as possible to his good work in deciding what to do.”
Rhee’s visit wasn’t a big success. Not long after the meeting, the Corporation for National and Community Service, which is the agency that oversees AmeriCorps, banned Johnson from receiving any more federal money. Walpin referred the financial allegations, as well as the accusations of sexual misconduct, to the U.S. attorney’s office in Sacramento. St. Hope was eventually ordered to pay back $425,000 of the AmeriCorps cash. Prosecutors took no action on the sexual allegations. Johnson, meanwhile, won the mayor’s race.
In June of this year, President Obama abruptly fired Walpin. The White House was apparently unhappy with the zeal with which he conducted the St. Hope probe.
Rhee’s June 2008 visit to Walpin’s office wasn’t her first talk with him. Shortly before that, she had called Walpin, apparently to see how the investigation was going. It was widely reported at the time that Rhee was planning to include St. Hope in a group of educational organizations that would be hired to run 10 of the District’s most troubled high schools.
“Because she knew we were investigating Johnson, she called me to find out whether there would be anything coming out that she should take into account in deciding whether to contract with Johnson,” Walpin says. “I told her I could not give her any bottom line as to what we were doing, but she knew that we were looking into the St. Hope matter.”
At the time of her conversations with Walpin, Rhee was not only aware of the financial misuse investigation; she appears to have known about the sexual misconduct allegations, too. According to a new report by Republican investigators in the House and Senate, a former St. Hope employee told Walpin’s staff that Rhee “learned of the allegations and played the role of a fixer, doing ‘damage control.'”
That was in 2007, well before Rhee visited Walpin. So it appears she knew about both problems, yet was still contemplating having St. Hope take part in running some D.C. high schools.
On Monday, I sent a few questions to Rhee spokeswoman Jennifer Calloway. What was said in the Rhee-Walpin conversations? Why was Rhee planning to include St. Hope in the troubled-school project when she knew about the various allegations? “We put out a statement last week,” Calloway responded, and then repeated that statement: “Chancellor Rhee is mentioned in one paragraph of the 62-page [Republican report] — it rehashes old allegations that have long since been dismissed and deemed meritless by local and federal law enforcement officials, including the Sacramento Police Department and U.S. Attorney.”
Democrats have charged that Republicans went overboard in investigating the Walpin firing. But there was no GOP effort to target Rhee, an emerging star on the national education scene who is admired by conservatives for, among other things, her efforts to break the teachers’ union stranglehold on Washington’s schools. Rhee is, in fact, admired by some of the very Republicans whose investigation has ensnared her.
But the Walpin-AmeriCorps affair has raised questions about Rhee’s judgment that could undermine her reform efforts.