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 Inspector General Gerald Walpin
Former Inspector General Gerald Walpin, whose dismissal by President Obama last year has been challenged by congressmen as potentially illegal political retaliation, is now stepping up the battle to get his job back, accusing the judicial system of stalling his case and, thus, doing the White House a convenient favor.
Court documents filed last week accuse U.S. District Court Judge Richard Roberts of failing to act within federally mandated time requirements and “doing nothing at all” to move the case forward.
Similarly, a joint congressional report by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., which found the administration had failed to comply with requirements of the law and “orchestrated an after-the-fact smear campaign to justify the president’s action,” has been allowed to languish.
Meanwhile, “Walpingate” fades from the public memory, and the White House has moved on to appoint Walpin’s replacement, as though the scandal were resolved.
The advantage the White House gains by delays in the case hasn’t been lost on a recent Washington Times editorial, which calls for a halt to nomination of Jonathan Hatfield to Walpin’s old position:
“[Judge Roberts] has played into the hands of the Obama administration, which has used every possible stalling tactic to keep the case buried and its merits unexamined,” the editorial contends. “The goal, which is highly improper, seems to be to render Mr. Walpin’s case moot by putting Mr. Hatfield in his place.”
The editorial insists the integrity of the offices of inspector general is even more important for “an administration increasingly known for outlandish stonewalling of Congress and the press and for its Justice Department’s refusal to investigate any purported administration wrongdoing.”
Independent federal inspectors general, however, are supposed to be granted special protection from political interference or retaliation – 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.
Congressmen Grassley and Issa, however, issued a report suspecting Obama of violating his own law.
“Throughout our investigation of Mr. Walpin’s removal, the White House has repeatedly communicated that the president was not motivated by inappropriate political reasons,” said Issa. “The fact is Gerald Walpin led an aggressive investigation of a political ally of President Obama that successfully recovered taxpayer dollars. While firing an investigator who uncovered the abuse of funds by a political ally might be considered an act of ‘political courage’ in Chicago politics, for most Americans it raises troubling questions.”
Walpin had sued the CNCS in July of last year, seeking reinstatement. Dozens of procedural steps and court filings later, however, the judge has refused to take any action on the case, save granting the defense an extension and denying a preliminary injunction request that would have required the CNCS to supply affidavits and documents in its defense.
Now Walpin is petitioning a higher court, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia, to issue a writ of mandamus directing Judge Roberts to either promptly resolve the outstanding motions in the lawsuit or transfer the case to a judge who can.
According to court filings, Walpin “brings this petition reluctantly, and only after trying by every other means reasonable available to try to break the logjam in his case.”
The documents also cite Grassley and Issa’s report, before declaring the judge “need not have allowed such unlawfulness to continue and should, at the very least, have ensured that the substantive questions be timely tried.”
The origins of ‘Walpingate’
In 2008, Walpin was overseeing an investigation of St. HOPE Academy, a charter school founded and operated by Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and self-described friend of Barack Obama. Walpin referred Johnson to the U.S. attorney’s office for criminal and civil prosecution for “false and fraudulent conduct in connection with $845,018.75 in federal funds.”
According to Walpin’s referral, St. HOPE used members of AmeriCorps – which is run by CNCS – for political campaigning to re-elect Board of Education incumbents, and the hours spent on those elections were improperly recorded as AmeriCorps service hours.
“The money was given to St. HOPE to finance AmeriCorps members, who are basically volunteers that they call members, to do tutoring in schools among disadvantaged students,” Walpin told Eric Hogue of Hogue News. “My investigation found they didn’t use the AmeriCorps members for tutoring; they used them to drive Mr. Johnson around, to wash his car, to do all sorts of janitorial and administrative work [that] the money wasn’t given to them for.”
Johnson’s eligibility to receive federal grants was consequently suspended on Sept. 24, 2008.
Despite Johnson’s proven misconduct, the voters of Sacramento elected him mayor less than two months later. But when, in February 2009, Congress passed the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the city of Sacramento’s eligibility to receive stimulus funds under ARRA was thought to be threatened by Johnson’s suspension.
The U.S. attorney’s office, headed by acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown, negotiated a favorable settlement for Johnson that reinstated his eligibility to receive federal funds.
According to Grassley’s and Issa’s report, however, the settlement included “no meaningful guarantee” that the United States would ever actually collect any payments from St. HOPE, which was saddled with the bulk of the settlement.
Last May, Walpin, who had been shut out of the settlement negotiations by Brown, complained to the board that oversees AmeriCorps funding, prompting Brown to file a complaint against Walpin.
Three weeks later, Walpin received a phone call from the White House telling him to resign or be fired. Walpin refused the phone ultimatum and was fired 45 minutes later, despite a law requiring the president to give 30-days notice to Congress before removing an IG and to explain the reasons for doing so.
Brown, sometimes referred to in the press as a Republican critic of Walpin, actually left the GOP in 1988 and registered as a Democrat through 2007.
Brown wrote a letter to Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif., in the midst of the Johnson investigation, laying out his qualifications for and seeking a political appointment to the U.S. attorney position. The congressional investigation report concludes, “It would be reasonable for an already skeptical public to wonder whether Brown excluded Inspector General Walpin from negotiations and settled the St. HOPE matter with Johnson in order to curry favor with the White House because Brown wanted the president to appoint him.”
Brown and Matthew Jacobs, Kevin Johnson’s attorney, frequently exchanged informal emails deriding and scoffing over Walpin, emails the report states “do not suggest an appropriately arm’s length negotiating relationship.” Further, the report states, “Together with his efforts to obtain a political appointment from the president, Brown’s communications with Johnson’s attorney contribute to the appearance that Walpin’s removal was more about his vigorous pursuit of the St. HOPE matter than about any other legitimate, unrelated factors.”
An internal memo that reveals that the White House considered issues in deciding to remove Walpin that it did not disclose in the official notice to Congress, including a complaint about Walpin’s investigation of another Obama political ally in New York.
Grassley and Issa concluded, “None of the documents produced after the publication of our initial report undermine or conflict with the conclusions of the [final] report. Arguably, some of the new documents could actually reinforce the public perception that the inspector general was removed for political reasons.
“In particular, the revelation that the acting U.S. attorney was seeking a presidential appointment at the time he filed a complaint against Walpin puts that complaint in a different light,” they continue. “Moreover, the fact that the White House allowed the documents to be withheld for so long and that it required so much effort to finally obtain them also suggests a lack of transparency that is inconsistent with the goals repeatedly articulated by President Obama for a more open and accountable administration.”
The Court of Appeals has issued an order for all sides in the Walpin lawsuit to submit response to Walpin’s filing within the next seven days.