When Congress began investigating the termination of Inspector General Gerald Walpin, they demanded information from Alan Solomont, who chaired the Corporation for National and Community Service that Walpin oversaw, to determine what kind of influence the White House exerted in that process. Walpin’s termination came after he objected to a settlement of fraud charges relating to an Obama ally, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, and critics suspected political motivations behind the firing. Solomont insisted that he had only discussed the situation with White House counsel Greg Craig, Norman Eisen (who did the firing), and three officials from the Office of Social Innovation. But as Byron York reports today, newly released documents have forced Solomont to contradict himself on whether he consulted with the First Lady’s staff on Walpin:
During that interview, Solomont was asked to give the names of people at the White House with whom he had discussed Corporation business. He cited five people — White House counsel Gregory Craig, counsel’s office lawyer Norman Eisen, and three officials from something called the White House Office of Social Innovation. Then Solomont was asked with whom he had specifically discussed the inspector general matter. He said Craig and Eisen. According to investigators, Solomont did not mention Norris in response to either question. Then, he was specifically asked whether he had talked with Norris. He said no.
GOP investigators were particularly curious about Norris because First Lady Michelle Obama had taken a special interest in national service, and notes from a March conference call of the Corporation’s board said that Mrs. Obama “will be playing a central role in the national service agenda.” Investigators also discovered that the First Lady had been “tasked with appointing the Corporation’s next Chief Executive Officer,” according to a report released last month by Grassley and Issa. In addition, on June 4, the White House announced that Norris was leaving the First Lady’s office to become a senior adviser at the Corporation. Taken together, those events prompted investigators to ask whether the First Lady’s office played any role in the Walpin affair.
But Solomont denied talking to Norris. Then, in November, White House visitor logs showed that Solomont had been to the White House 17 times between President Obama’s inauguration and the July 15 interview, and had met with Norris on three of those occasions, including June 9. In a follow-up interview conducted December 8, Republican investigators asked Solomont why he had not previously disclosed his meetings with Norris.
According to a number of sources, White House staff who accompanied Solomont objected to the question, accusing investigators of trying to create a “gotcha” situation. “Cutting short the questioning on this issue indicated an unusually defensive posture on the part of White House staff, including a lawyer from the Counsel’s office,” wrote Issa in the letter to Solomont. At that point, according to Issa, Solomont insisted he had mentioned his meetings with Norris during that first interview with investigators on July 15. The Republicans were flabbergasted. “This is simply false,” Issa wrote to Solomont. “The notes and recollections of multiple staff in the room at the time are clearly contrary to your recollection.” Finally, Solomont told investigators that he had discussed Corporation business, but not the Walpin matter, with Norris.
There are no transcripts or recordings of either session, but staff members on both sides took extensive notes.
Republican investigators also want to know more about a series of events, some of them involving Norris, that occurred in the days leading up to Walpin’s firing. In his letter, Issa wrote that on June 4, the day Norris was appointed to her new job at the Corporation, “the White House was in the midst of deliberating action regarding Mr. Walpin.” The day before, June 3, Solomont sent an email to Eisen, the White House counsel’s office lawyer, discussing possible temporary replacements for Walpin, and also giving Eisen Walpin’s contact numbers, which on June 10 Eisen used to call Walpin and fire him. “In light of all this,” Issa wrote to Solomont, “it seems highly implausible that you would meet with Ms. Norris on June 9, 2009 and not discuss the IG. Yet, you claimed in your December 8, 2009 interview that you only discussed other [Corporation] business with her.”
The only reason Solomont’s talking at all is because two Senators have placed a hold on his nomination to become the Ambassador to Spain. Chuck Grassley placed an initial hold on his nomination in order to squeeze the documents out of the Obama administration, documents which clearly showed Solomont as not exactly forthcoming on Walpin’s firing. Grassley lifted the hold even though the White House didn’t release all of the relevant documents, but another Senator has placed an anonymous hold on Solomont. He won’t be going to Spain any time soon.
Does this sound like the most open and transparent administration in history? It sounds more like a cover-up, and this case has begun to resemble the Travel Office firings that involved Hillary Clinton in abuses of power during the early days of her husband’s administration. York’s reporting also puts quite a different spin on the release of the White House visitor logs. Obama tried to claim that it demonstrated his transparency, when in fact Congress had demanded that information in exchange for moving Solomont’s nomination.
Clearly the White House misled Congress in denying the connection between Solomont and Norris. The handling of the termination of Walpin, and especially the subsequent attempts to paint the IG as senile, already looked like a desperate attempt to disguise the Oval Office’s political motivations in ridding itself of an independent observer for AmeriCorps and the CNCS. Solomont’s deception shows whom these machinations intend to protect.
The Senate should stop Solomont’s nomination from proceeding any further, and demand the release of the rest of the documents. Walpin should get reinstated immediately as well.