Obama Protects Cronies at Taxpayers’ Expense

June 18, 2009

The more we learn about the White House’s summary firing of AmeriCorps’ inspector general, Gerald Walpin, the more it smells of lawlessness, cronyism and a flagrant disregard for transparency and government accountability.

Remember President Barack Obama’s commitment to oversee the expenditure of taxpayer funds to avoid waste and inefficiency — to the point that he deputized Vice President “Mean” Joe Biden as the executive enforcer?

That was then. This is now. As has proved customary with this administration, the walk has not matched the talk. Biden’s casual admissions that the administration “guessed wrong” and that money has been wasted don’t begin to describe the fiscal recklessness and corruption that define this White House.

Walpin — in investigating the misuse of AmeriCorps funds by St. HOPE charity, which is under the direction of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a strong Obama supporter — discovered that St. HOPE had failed to use the federal monies for the purposes specified in the grant and improperly had used AmeriCorps personnel to drive Johnson to personal appointments, run other errands for him and wash his car. On Walpin’s recommendation, an official at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the organization that runs AmeriCorps, ordered Johnson’s suspension.

Walpin also referred the matter to the local U.S. attorney’s office for a criminal inquiry. Though no criminal charges were filed, St. HOPE agreed in a settlement to repay half its $850,000 of AmeriCorps grants.

But the real fireworks didn’t begin until Walpin briefed the CNCS board May 20 on his investigation. A few weeks later, the White House called him and gave him one hour to decide whether he would resign or be fired.

He refused to resign, and the White House summarily fired him, as promised, grossly violating the 2008 Inspector General Reform Act, co-sponsored by then-Sen. Barack Obama, which forbids the White House from firing an IG without providing 30 days’ notice and the specific reasons for the firing.

Norman Eisen, White House special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, in response to heavy criticism of the administration over this matter, issued a letter explaining its reasons for termination but offering not the slightest justification for its violation of the statute. Its excuses are superficial, bogus and vague. Eisen wasn’t any more forthcoming as to the grounds for the termination in his meeting with the staff of Sen. Charles Grassley, who is inquiring into the case.

In his letter, Eisen said that in the May 20 meeting, “Mr. Walpin was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve.” Eisen complained that Walpin had worked from his home in New York instead of commuting to Washington. He also cited Walpin’s “lack of candor” in providing information to decision-makers, meaning the U.S. attorney.

Though the White House dismissed Walpin without seeking his side of the story, there is another side, and it is compelling. The Washington Examiner’s Byron York interviewed Walpin, who responded to the allegations against him.

Walpin denied that he was confused or that his presentation was disorganized, though he admitted he was less organized after being asked to leave the room for a while and returning to find his papers shuffled and out of order. GOP investigators said Walpin is entirely sharp, focused, collected and coherent, an assessment that Byron York corroborated based on his two-hour interview.

Walpin said his telecommuting from New York had been expressly approved by the chairman, vice chairman and corporation’s board, and he described the charge that he lacked candor with the U.S. attorney as “a total lie.”

Even more suspicious was counsel Eisen’s stonewalling behavior in the meeting with Sen. Grassley’s staff, who said he refused to answer several direct questions about the representations in his letter, prompting Grassley to send a follow-up letter to the White House for more information.

What possible justification can there be for the White House to lack candor (to borrow a phrase) in this matter? Why does it view itself as an adversary to the inspector general who investigated the misuse of taxpayer funds?

In view of this stonewalling, it’s hard to assume the administration’s good faith. It is abundantly clear the White House had a personal interest in protecting Johnson, violated the law in firing Walpin, did not seek his side of the story or show any interest in his response to the allegations, didn’t interview him to assess his alleged confusion, and was overtly evasive with Sen. Grassley as to its reasons for termination.

Instead of showing neutrality or erring on the side of the watchdog of government funds, the administration punished the watchdog and his charge, the U.S. taxpayers, and, in the process, exhibited those negative qualities — cronyism, corruption, waste, recklessness and a lack of transparency — it forever decries.