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 ↑
Former AmeriCorps watchdog Gerald Walpin is only the first – yet still the most controversial – of three inspectors general to leave their posts prematurely since President Obama took office, and now he’s asking for a congressional hearing into his suspicious firing by the White House.
As WND has reported, inspectors general are supposed to be protected from political interference so they can root out fraud and waste of government grant money wherever it may lie.
Questions have been raised, however, about the White House’s firing of Walpin and have been further exacerbated by the subsequent resignation of Amtrak’s watchdog Fred E. Weiderhold, the International Trade Commission’s termination of Inspector General Judith Gwynn’s contract and the Treasury Department’s request for a ruling on how much power it has over Neil M. Barofsky, the special inspector general overseeing the $700 billion Troubled Asset Relief Program.
Walpin told CNSNews that when the White House fired him with a paper-thin explanation following his investigation into Obama supporter Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, it created “a chilling effect” on other inspectors general.
“The best way to handle that – aside from President Obama admitting that he made a mistake – is to have a congressional hearing so that all facts can be put out for the public to see,” Walpin said.
U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., have already sent letters to the administration, demanding facts, records and explanations for its questionable dealings with the inspectors general. But Walpin believes only a congressional hearing will reveal the whole story.
“I certainly don’t know the facts about any of the other IGs,” Walpin told CNSNews, “but I don’t think you can find in the history of IGs such an administration attack on and terminating of IGs [as in] the last few weeks.”
“I would very much like for the American public to know all the facts,” Walpin continued. “Sunshine is the best disinfectant. I think it is terrible what happened here to the IG, [to] the institution as a whole.”
Sen. Grassley’s investigations and the subsequent media coverage have already brought to light several suspicious circumstances surrounding the controversy that some have labeled “Walpingate”:
Prior to his dismissal, Walpin had been calling for action against Kevin Johnson’s St. HOPE Academy, which, it has been learned, misappropriated hundreds of thousands of dollars in AmeriCorps funds. Johnson, a former NBA star, was an outspoken celebrity supporter for the Obama campaign.
Even closer to his dismissal, Walpin filed a report critical of what he called “the largest” AmeriCorps project authorized by the Corporation for National and Community Service – a fellows program at the City University of New York – with a price tag, he estimated, of over $80 million. Calling such a large program waste, the Washington Times opined, could not have sat well with the Corporation’s chairman, Alan Solomont, who contributed more than $800,000 to Obama’s campaign and inauguration.
The CNCS is also expected to welcome this week a new senior adviser, Jackie Norris, who since January has been serving as chief of staff for Michelle Obama.
As WND reported, Grassley fired off a letter to Solomont, demanding records on Walpin’s job performance and any documents related to the Corporation’s dealing with Johnson, CUNY and the Office of the First Lady.
“I am very concerned about the appearance that the IG’s communication with my office about this matter may have contributed to his removal,” wrote Grassley, referring to the reports Walpin had filed with Congress over the Johnson and CUNY cases. “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.”
Also as WND reported, an FBI investigation has been launched into the St. HOPE affair, now that allegations have surfaced in the Sacramento Bee from Rick Maya, former executive director with St. HOPE, suggesting a member of the charter school’s board had deleted e-mails from Johnson during the federal investigation.
“All of this suggests that the purported White House mistreatment of independent inspectors general is a scandal that might have real legs,” writes an editorial in the Washington Times. “As well it should.”
Radio host Rush Limbaugh further 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.”
And while Walpin is pushing for a congressional hearing to uncover the facts, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs assured reporters last week at Friday’s daily briefing that none have been hidden.
“The president believes that inspectors general fulfill a unique and important role in ensuring that programs operate with efficiency,” Gibbs said. “No attorney-client privilege has ever been evoked. No documents sought have been withheld.”
When CNSNews asked Gibbs whether someone could infer a trend occurring between the Obama administration and inspectors general, he responded, “If they inferred it, it would be an incorrect inference.”
Nonetheless, Walpin is hoping members of both parties will support a hearing to ensure the political independence of the inspectors general is preserved.
“I have great hopes that Democrats, like Republicans, believe in the integrity of the system and believe that the I.G. system must be protected,” he told CNSNews. “I have hopes. I hope they won’t disappoint me.”