Obama WH scrambled for story to smear Walpin
posted at 3:30 pm on November 23, 2009 by Ed Morrissey
When the White House fired Inspector General Gerald Walpin, the administration claimed that it acted on a number of complaints by the Corporation for National and Community Service’s board. Documents uncovered by Republicans in the investigation into Walpin’s firing have shown this to be a lie. The White House fired Walpin at the behest of the board’s chair, a big donor to Barack Obama’s campaign, but only contacted the board after the firing — and at first only to tell them to publicly support it:
Pressed for the reason Walpin was fired, Eisen told House and Senate aides that the White House conducted an “extensive review” of complaints about Walpin’s performance before deciding to dismiss him. According to the new report, Eisen told Congress that “his investigation into the merits of removing Gerald Walpin involved contacting members of the Corporation for National and Community Service [CNCS] board to confirm the existence of a ‘consensus’ in favor of removal.” But Republican investigators later discovered that during that “extensive review,” the White House did not even seek the views of the corporation’s board — the very people whose “consensus” purportedly led to Walpin’s firing.
Other than board chairman Alan Solomont, the Democratic mega-donor and Obama supporter who originally told the White House of his dissatisfaction with Walpin, “no member of the CNCS board had any substantive input about whether the removal of Gerald Walpin was appropriate,” according to the report. Only one other board member, vice-chairman Stephen Goldsmith, was even called by the White House, and that was on June 10, a few hours before Walpin was fired. According to the report, Goldsmith told investigators that “the White House had already decided to remove Walpin and wanted to confirm [Goldsmith’s] support for the action.”
The new documents show the White House scrambling, in the days after the controversy erupted, to put together a public explanation for the firing. On June 11, less than 24 hours after Walpin received the call from Eisen, the board held a conference call. The next day, Ranit Schmelzer, who is part of the corporation’s press office, sent an email to board members giving them talking points to use if contacted by reporters seeking information about the matter.
“Indicate that you support the president’s decision to remove IG Walpin,” was Schmelzer’s first instruction to the board. Then: “If asked why he was removed, indicate that the president lost confidence in Mr. Walpin.” And then: “If the reporter continues to press, say that you can’t get into details on a personnel matter, but you understand there were some performance-based issues.” Finally, Schmelzer advised the board to avoid “getting into any specifics about IG Walpin’s performance-based issues. The WH has stayed away from this and has counseled us to do the same.”
Will the national media finally take some interest in the story now? The White House not only deliberately misled Congress on Walpin’s firing, they also withheld these new documents until after Grassley and Issa made their initial report on the investigation on Friday. As Byron York notes, that takes the traditional Friday-night document dump to a whole new level. It also completely refutes any claim on transparency and openness from this administration.
The new information shows that Obama fired Walpin for political purposes, not for cause. The White House also broke the law, at least initially, by not giving Congress the proper notification before terminating Walpin (they adhered to the regulation after being called on this violation by postponing Walpin’s termination date). The firing appears to have been motivated to protect an Obama ally (Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson) from having allegations of using federal funds to pay off employees and avoid sexual harassment charges exposed. The White House essentially smeared Walpin with completely unsubstantiated allegations of senility to undermine his credibility, once Walpin went public. One might think that the national media would take an interest in this, but as York also notes, their interest has never been very intense at all.
Inspectors general exist to check abuses of power and corruption, regardless of the party in power. An attack on them, especially one so nakedly political and potentially corrupt as Walpin’s firing, is an attack on accountability and citizen government. This case should be headlining major media outlets — and if the current president was a Republican, it no doubt would be.