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All Da King's Men

Obama Fires Americorps Watchdog - Part II

By Da King Published: June 25, 2009

This is a follow-up to the original blog piece I wrote about President Obama's firing of Gerald Walpin, the Inspector General of the CNCS, the watchdog over Americorps and other national service groups.

It's looking more and more like a political hit job.

From the Washington Examiner:

Walpin had certainly displeased the board by his aggressive investigation into the misuse of AmeriCorps funds by Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star who is now mayor of Sacramento, California and a prominent supporter of President Obama. Prior to his election as mayor, Johnson ran an educational organization called St. HOPE, which received $850,000 in AmeriCorps money. Walpin discovered that Johnson and St. HOPE had failed to use the federal money for the purposes specified in the grant and had also used federally-funded AmeriCorps staff for, among other things, "driving [Johnson] to personal appointments, washing his car, and running personal errands."

Walpin recommended that Johnson be banned from ever receiving any more federal funds. But after the passage of the $787 billion stimulus bill, amid worries that such a ban on the mayor would keep Sacramento from receiving its share of the stimulus cash, the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service reached an agreement with the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento under which Johnson would repay some of the mis-spent money and also be eligible to receive new federal grants in the future. Walpin strongly objected to the agreement. (Knowing his opposition, the board excluded him from the negotiations.)

Walpin's objections were the subject of a now-controversial May 20 meeting in which Walpin, to use his term, "lectured" the board on what he believed was its mistake in approving the Johnson settlement. On the morning of the meeting, the Sacramento Bee reported that a man named Rick Maya, who worked with Kevin Johnson in the St. HOPE project, claimed that Johnson's emails had been deleted during the time of Walpin's investigation. The Maya news suggested that there might have been obstruction of justice in the St. HOPE affair, and Walpin used it to drive home his point that the board should have let his investigation stand.

It appears the discussion of the St. HOPE matter was a turning point not only in the May 20 meeting but in Walpin's tenure at the Corporation. In a recent interview, a Republican member of the Corporation board told me that Walpin told board members at the meeting that he wanted to issue some sort of public statement to the effect that there should be more investigation of the St. HOPE matter. "He said, 'I feel so strongly about this that today I am going to issue a statement to the press calling for further investigation,'" the member said, recalling Walpin's words. "The board members all caught that. Several of us wrote down that he was going to be issuing a statement to the press that afternoon."

It was a distressing scenario for the board. As a favorite program of Barack and Michelle Obama, AmeriCorps was enjoying a higher profile than ever before. The Corporation also stood to receive vast amounts of new funding from the $5.7 billion Edward M. Kennedy Serve America Act, which would triple the size of AmeriCorps. And in the midst of that, here was the agency's inspector general saying he might re-open an investigation into an embarrassing episode involving hundreds of thousands of mis-spent dollars and a politically prominent supporter of the president.

"Right now, when there is such a great emphasis on service, we did not need any press out there on this St. HOPE matter, which was already settled," the board member told me. "We thought he was going to use the press…He had an issue with the fact that a settlement was reached…and he was doing everything he could to continue to keep the issue at the forefront."

Later in the meeting, members questioned Walpin about his intentions. It was at that point that they say Walpin became confused and disoriented. But whatever Walpin's demeanor, it appears that board members, of both parties, were worried about the possibility of embarrassing new revelations involving a sensational case they thought had been closed. After the meeting, the board began an accelerated effort to remove Walpin, compiling an informal list of grievances against him -- he could be difficult, he telecommuted, he was somehow disabled -- that the White House would ultimately cite as cause for his firing. But there is no doubt that, whatever the other reasons, the board feared that a revival of a scandal they thought was in the past would be embarrassing to the newly-prominent AmeriCorps.

Sounds like the board might have gotten together to manufacture some reasons to get Walpin fired because they were afraid he'd go to the press, and that's when they decided Walpin was "confused" and "disoriented," among other things. They wanted to dump him because he was a thorn in their side and was going to expose the St. Hope "settlement" (free pass).

As further evidence, 147 people, both Democrats and Republicans, have signed a letter to Congress attesting to the soundness of Walpin's mental state. Here's an excerpt from that letter:

We have known Gerald Walpin as a leading member of the New York Bar for many years. Many of us have seen him and heard him speak, including at this month's meeting of the Second Circuit Judicial Conference and last week's meeting of the Board of the Federal Bar Council.

We have never seen Mr. Walpin to be "confused, disoriented, [or] unable to answer questions." While none of us was present at the meeting referred to in Mr. Eisen's letter, we can report only that such an allegation is totally inconsistent with our personal knowledge of Mr. Walpin who has always, through the present day, exhibited a quick mind and a command of the facts (whether we agree with him or not) and eloquence - essentially the opposite of someone who is "confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions."

We note that the signers of this letter include both Democrats and Republicans, voters for both President Obama and Senator McCain, and many who do not agree with Mr. Walpin's personal political views. But all of us are unanimous in affirming Mr. Walpin's integrity and competence.

If it matters, and it shouldn't, Mr. Walpin calls himself a conservative.

Message to Geral Walpin - don't mess with the President's pet projects and friends, peon, or you'll be crushed under the wheels of the Hopenchange Express.

P.S. - As of this writing, the twelve questions Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-IOWA) wanted answered by June 24th about Walpin's firing have NOT been answered by the White House.

P.P.S - The FBI is investigating St. Hope and Kevin Johnson for obstructing the investigation into the misappropriation of funds (the obstruction was one of Walpin's biggest objections to the settlement).



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