Former Inspector General Gerald Walpin
The lawsuit brought by former Inspector General Gerald Walpin, whose dismissal by President Obama last year has been challenged by congressmen as potentially illegal political retaliation, has been dismissed in federal court.
U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts late last week dismissed Walpin’s case, reasoning that the Inspector General Reform Act – a bill co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama to keep inspectors general free from presidential political interference – gives Walpin no legal recourse for getting his job back, even if the president did fire him illegally.
As WND reported, the White House fired Walpin from his watchdog position over the Corporation for National and Community Services shortly after the inspector general exposed sexual misconduct and gross misappropriation of federal funds by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a prominent Obama supporter.
The act, however, is supposed to grant inspectors general special protection from political interference or retaliation to ensure they are free to investigate waste and fraud, uninfluenced by political cronyism.
Walpin contends Obama provided neither sufficient cause nor notice in firing him, a violation of the specific provisions of the act. And though the president has already nominated his replacement, the former inspector general sued to be reinstated.
Judge Roberts’ opinion, however, argues the act does not guarantee individual inspectors general “an enforceable right to continued employment,” and, therefore, Walpin has no standing to petition the court for his job back.
Furthermore, Roberts opined, “While Walpin complains that the president’s rationale was insufficient, Walpin fails to show how the (Inspector General Reform Act) provides any sort of criteria that would allow a court to make that determination.”
To simplify the language, the judge’s 15-page opinion contends the act is a law governing the relationship between Congress and the White House regarding inspectors general, not a law granting any protections to the inspectors general themselves. Therefore, the judge concludes, the act requires Congress, not the courts, to hold the president accountable.
A tainted decision?
Several commentators have expressed outrage over the decision and pointed to ties between the White House and Judge Roberts, who Walpin had previously accused of stalling his case and, thus, doing the White House a convenient favor.
In 1993, after working as an assistant U.S. attorney in Washington, D.C., Roberts was appointed by then–U.S. Attorney Eric Holder to second-in-command of the office. Holder now serves as the U.S. attorney general, while a Department of Justice lawyer has served as lead defense attorney in the Walpin lawsuit.
Roberts, a graduate of Vassar College, earlier this year introduced Holder at a campus lecture there, pondering, “What could I share about what I know of his life’s spicy moments?” before assuring the attorney general, “It’s OK. … I’ve got your back.”
“On the surface it may not look like much, but the cronyism runs very, very deep here,” comments Greg Hedgepath of the Politics & Capitalism blog. “This Judge that dismissed the case is somewhat beholden to Eric Holder for his accelerated success in the D.C. Beltway.”
Byron York of the Washington Examiner expressed a larger concern: “If the decision by U.S. District Judge Richard Roberts stands, in the future the White House will be able fire other inspectors general as it fired Walpin without fear of legal consequences.”
WND sought comment from Walpin’s attorneys but received no response.
Walpin himself said in an e-mail to Politico he disagrees with the ruling but hasn’t yet decided whether to appeal.
“We are disappointed in the decision, believe it is erroneous and are reviewing it and our options,” he said.
The origins of ‘Walpingate’
In 2008, Walpin was overseeing an investigation of St. HOPE Academy, a charter school founded and operated by Johnson, a former NBA star and self-described friend of 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 the Corporation for National and Community Services – 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 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 the act 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 a joint congressional report by Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., 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 inspector general and to explain the reasons for doing so.
And while the firing alone was enough to trigger Grassley’s demand for an investigation and an initial report in June 2009, documents cited in Grassley and Issa’s final, joint report cast the firing in an even more political light:
- 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 e-mails deriding and scoffing over Walpin, e-mails 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 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.”