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, now Sacramento’s mayor. The report by Senators Issa and 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.
New Documents show that immediately after Mr. Walpin was fired the White House tried to cover up the political basis for the firing. The administration raced to give everyone involved a made-up excusethe politically motivated firing:
New documents: White House scrambled to justify AmeriCorps firing after the fact
By: Byron York
Just hours after Sen. Charles Grassley and Rep. Darrell Issa released a report Friday on their investigation into the abrupt firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin, the Obama White House gave the lawmakers a trove of new, previously-withheld documents on the affair. It was a twist on the now-familiar White House late-Friday release of bad news; this time, the new evidence was put out not only at the start of a weekend but also hours too late for inclusion in the report.
The new documents support the Republican investigators’ conclusion that the White House’s explanation for Walpin’s dismissal — that it came after the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, unanimously decided that Walpin must go — was in fact a public story cobbled together after Walpin was fired, not before.
Walpin was axed on the evening of June 10, when he received a call from Norman Eisen, the special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, who told Walpin he had one hour either to resign or be fired. The next day, congressional Republicans, led by Grassley, objected, charging that Walpin’s dismissal violated a recently-passed law requiring the president to give Congress 30 days’ notice before dismissing an inspector general.
Pressed for the reason Walpin was fired, Eisen told House and Senate aides that the White House conducted an “extensive review” of complaints about Walpin’s performance before deciding to dismiss him. According to the new report, Eisen told Congress that “his investigation into the merits of removing Gerald Walpin involved contacting members of the Corporation for National and Community Service [CNCS] board to confirm the existence of a ‘consensus’ in favor of removal.” But Republican investigators later discovered that during that “extensive review,” the White House did not even seek the views of the corporation’s board — the very people whose “consensus” purportedly led to Walpin’s firing.
Other than board chairman Alan Solomont, the Democratic mega-donor and Obama supporter who originally told the White House of his dissatisfaction with Walpin, “no member of the CNCS board had any substantive input about whether the removal of Gerald Walpin was appropriate,” according to the report. Only one other board member, vice-chairman Stephen Goldsmith, was even called by the White House, and that was on June 10, a few hours before Walpin was fired. According to the report, Goldsmith told investigators that “the White House had already decided to remove Walpin and wanted to confirm [Goldsmith’s] support for the action.”
The new documents show the White House scrambling, in the days after the controversy erupted, to put together a public explanation for the firing. On June 11, less than 24 hours after Walpin received the call from Eisen, the board held a conference call. The next day, Ranit Schmelzer, who is part of the corporation’s press office, sent an email to board members giving them talking points to use if contacted by reporters seeking information about the matter.
“Indicate that you support the president’s decision to remove IG Walpin,” was Schmelzer’s first instruction to the board. Then: “If asked why he was removed, indicate that the president lost confidence in Mr. Walpin.” And then: “If the reporter continues to press, say that you can’t get into details on a personnel matter, but you understand there were some performance-based issues.” Finally, Schmelzer advised the board to avoid “getting into any specifics about IG Walpin’s performance-based issues. The WH has stayed away from this and has counseled us to do the same.”
The next day, June 13, after having instructed board members that the correct answer was to express support for the firing, the White House, for the first time, solicited the members’ actual views on the matter. In an email to the board headlined “Time-sensitive request from White House Counsel re IG matter,” corporation general counsel Frank Trinity wrote, “I was just contacted by Elana Tyrangiel, Associate Counsel to the President, seeking your assistance in responding to questions from members of Congress about President Obama’s removal of Gerald Walpin as inspector general. Specifically, the White House Counsel’s office would like to compile statements from board members and CNCS staff who were present at the inspector general’s presentation to the board immediately before the public board meeting last month.” Trinity said each member would receive a call from White House lawyer Tyrangiel, who “will prepare statements for your review for accuracy.”
The mention of Walpin’s “presentation to the board” was a reference to a May 20 board meeting that played a key part in the White House’s evolving explanations for Walpin’s firing. After initially explaining that President Obama no longer had the “fullest confidence” in Walpin, the White House later changed its story to say that Walpin, who was 77 years old at the time, had become “confused, disoriented [and] unable to answer questions” at the May 20 meeting. Later, the White House cited other “performance-based” issues. But Republican investigators concluded that the key motive behind the firing was unhappiness with Walpin’s aggressive investigation of misuse of AmeriCorps funds by Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, California who is a prominent political ally of President Obama.
Through it all, the White House and top management of the corporation struggled to keep the story straight. By June 18, a week after the firing, with news coverage dying down — it had never been very intense in the first place — they felt they had succeeded. “I understand how much work you are doing to prevent and control damage from the IG matter,” Solomont wrote in an email to Eric Tanenblatt, a board member who had talked to the press. “I want you to know how much I personally appreciate all your efforts.”
Wasn’t this the administration who promised to be the most transparent in history? Instead this President has been amongst the most secretive and politically motivated in our history.