White House ‘Arrogantly’ Ignored Will of Congress in IG Firing, Top Republican on House Oversight Committee Says

July 9, 2009 - 9:55 AM
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Gerald Walpin, former inspector general for the Corporation of National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – The ousted AmeriCorps watchdog, fired after investigating a political ally of President Barack Obama, will not confirm reports that he has met with congressional staffers looking into the matter, but Gerald Walpin did say that he is always available to Congress.
 
Meanwhile, the House Republican leading the probe into the firing of Walpin as the inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said “we’re going to continue to push” the investigation. (CNCS is the agency that oversees the youth volunteer program AmeriCorps.)
 
Rep. Darrell Issa of California, the ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said that such abuse of power from the White House is one of the reasons why the oversight committee exists.
 
“An IG was fired for doing his job just because the person he was going after is a friend of the president,” Issa told CNSNews.com at a Heritage Foundation event Tuesday.
 
Obama fired Walpin in June, after Walpin’s probe showed that Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, an Obama supporter who ran the AmeriCorps-funded, non-profit St. Hope Academy misused more than $800,000 in AmeriCorps grants, paying staff to campaign for school board candidates, wash Johnson’s car and run other personal errands. St. Hope agreed to repay half of the misused funds, but the FBI is still investigating allegations that the organization destroyed e-mails subpoenaed by the IG investigators.
 
The Walpin firing sparked concern in Congress, because the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, which Obama co-sponsored as a senator, requires the president to notify Congress 30 days before firing an inspector general and to provide a specific reason for the firing. Neither of those things happened in Walpin’s case.
 
In response to these concerns, Norm Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, sent a letter to the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee saying that Walpin was fired largely because he appeared to be “confused [and] disoriented” at a May 20 meeting of the CNCS board.
 
“The administration is going to have to deal with arrogantly ignoring the intent of Congress,” Issa said. “The intent of Congress is that if you have a problem with the IG, you say here’s our problem, you have 30 days consultation before we can terminate him. Instead they terminated him and began repeatedly making up different reasons and giving a sequence of different reasons. And I don’t think they are done.”
 
Walpin is still hoping for a full congressional hearing into the matter.
 
“I can only tell you when anyone in Congress asks me to be interviewed and be questioned by them, I have willingly done so and responded in full to all questions,” Walpin told CNSNews.com. “I don’t control what Congress will do. I would love to have a hearing so that the full facts can come out. I can testify under oath and those who attack me can testify under oath.
 
“There is no doubt in my mind that my and my office’s strong insistence on performing our responsibilities in connection with St. Hope -- and other reports we have issued -- was the reason I was suddenly dismissed,” Walpin said.
 
The Washington Post reported that staffers from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee have interviewed Walpin, but he declined comment on that report. “I am not going to be the one who discloses what Congress is doing,” Walpin told CNSNews.com.
 
The Post also reported that Walpin had a strained and “confrontational” relationship with CNCS officials, who have sent the Senate committee documents intended to discredit Walpin.
 
Those documents include e-mails, memos outlining an equal opportunity complaint against the IG’s office and even a May 2008 parody newsletter published by staffers in Walpin's office and approved by him as a gag gift for a retiring colleague.
 
One item in the mock “newsletter” poked fun at disgraced New York Gov. Elliott Spitzer and other items contained racial and sexual jokes, the Washington Post reported.
 
Walpin dismissed CNCS’ attempt to use the parody newsletter to attack him. “It is really, as I say, clawing at the bottom of the mud barrel,” Walpin told CNSNews.com.