Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa
In the wake of the White House’s highly controversial firing of an independent inspector general, one U.S. senator is demanding answers and justification, requesting records that extend even to the Office of the First Lady.
As WND reported, President Obama fired Gerald Walpin, the inspector general in charge of rooting out corruption in the AmeriCorps program, shortly after Walpin called for action against a prominent Obama supporter, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, who had misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal grants.
Walpin told WND he didn’t think the timing of his firing was a coincidence, and indeed, he said, “I was fired for doing my job.”
Radio host Rush Limbaugh accused the administration of breaking the law by firing Walpin, attributing it to “political cronyism” and declaring, “Alberto Gonzales as attorney general fired a couple of U.S. attorneys. He took hell for it. This is bigger. Inspectors general are supposed to be completely above politics.”
Today, according to a report in the Washington Examiner, U.S. Senator Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has demanded both an explanation from the administration and evidence of its dealings with Walpin.
“I am very concerned about the appearance that the I.G.’s communication with my office about this matter may have contributed to his removal,” wrote Grassley, referring to reports Walpin had filed with Congress over Johnson’s case. “Inspectors general have a statutory duty to report to Congress. Intimidation or retaliation against those who freely communicate their concerns to members of the House and Senate cannot be tolerated.”
Grassley’s letter to Alan Solomont, head of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which Walpin served as inspector general, also details a strongly worded case in support of Walpin’s actions and questions the Corporation’s “favorable settlement” and “slap on the wrist” for Johnson.
The letter, reprinted in the Examiner, further demanded “any and all records, email, memoranda, documents, communications or other information, whether in draft or final form” related to a variety of issues, including Walpin’s job performance, contacts with the president and “contacts with officials in the Office of the First Lady.”
As WND reported, independent federal inspectors general are supposed to be granted special protection from political interference – thanks in part to a law co-sponsored by then-Sen. Barack Obama – to ensure they are free to investigate waste and fraud uninfluenced by political cronyism.
Included in those protections is a requirement that the president submit to Congress, in writing, his reasons for dismissing any inspector general.
President Obama’s initial explanation, however, was merely, “It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general. That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general.”
“That’s a conclusion, not a reason,” Walpin told Fox News television host Glenn Beck today. “This is shocking. I know of no other I.G. who has been terminated like this.”
Walpin further told Beck he’s considering “all alternatives,” but said, “The most important thing is that the public knows.”
According to the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, co-sponsored by Obama, inspectors general must also be given 30 days notice of their dismissal.
The firing of Walpin, however, took on a very different form.
Walpin confirmed to WND that he received last week a sudden and unexpected ultimatum from White House counsel Norman L. Eisen: Resign within the hour or suffer being fired.
Walpin refused to resign, replying in an e-mail, “It would do a disservice to the independent scheme that Congress has mandated – and could potentially raise questions about my own integrity – if I were to render what would seem to many a very hasty response to your request.”
Grassley, who also co-sponsored the Inspector General Reform Act, immediately protested the White House’s action.
“I was troubled to learn that last night your staff reportedly issued an ultimatum to the AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin that he had one hour to resign or be terminated,” Grassley stated in a letter to the president. “Inspectors general were designed to have a dual role reporting to both the president and Congress so that they would be free from undue political pressure. This independence is the hallmark of all inspectors general and is essential so they may operate independently, without political pressure or interference from agencies attempting to keep their failings from public scrutiny.”
Grassley’s letter reminded Obama of the statute requiring the president to submit 30 days notice to Congress of an inspector general’s dismissal and stated, “No such notice was provided to Congress in this instance.”
“We cannot afford to have inspector general independence threatened,” Grassley concluded. “In light of the massive increases in federal spending of late, it is more critical than ever that we have an inspector general community that is vigorous, independent and active in rooting out waste, fraud and abuse. I urge you to review the Inspector General Reform Act you co-sponsored and to follow the letter of the law should you have cause to remove any inspector general.”
The White House then clarified two issues, explaining that Walpin was not immediately fired, but suspended for 30 days of paid leave as a countdown to his official release, and that his dismissal, indeed, was related to the Johnson investigation.
In a written response to Sen. Grassley, White House counsel Gregory Craig cited an ethics complaint filed against Walpin by the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento, Lawrence Brown.
Brown had declined to file criminal charges against Johnson, whose organization was found to have used AmeriCorps funds to pay for school board political activities, personal errands and even the washing of Johnson’s car. Brown did reach a settlement, however, requiring the organization to pay back over $400,000 of $850,000 in grants it was given through the AmeriCorps program.
Walpin, in turn, filed an objection with Congress over the favorable settlement, an objection some are speculating, led to his firing.
Brown’s ethics complaint against Walpin, meanwhile, which contends Walpin was too aggressive and overstepped his authority in the investigation of Johnson, awaits judgment by an integrity committee.
“I have been performing – and my office has been performing – its work with the highest integrity, in the spirit of an independent office, calling the shots as it sees them,” Walpin told WND. “The integrity committee will decide the merits of the complaint, but what troubles me is that the White House is apparently relying on the complaint. At this point, it is before an adjudicatory body, and if the White House felt it couldn’t wait for that decision, it should have at least waited for me to come in and provide my factual response, so it could consider it. It did not.”
And while Walpin has been hesitant to accuse the administration of breaking the law or firing him for strictly political reasons, he did share with WND that he believes the White House’s actions have violated the independent mission of the inspectors general, which both Grassley and Obama sought to protect in the 2008 legislation.
“I am sorry for what I believe to be clear interference with the institution of the inspector general,” Walpin said. “And I am sorry for the people in my office, who I respect. I took the position because I believed when the president called upon me, it was a great opportunity to give something back to this country. I have done what I believe is right, and I will go on.”