The plot thickens in the Gerald Walpin scandal, as Byron York and Jake Tapper report a fresh development — and a possible abuse of power within the Obama administration. The acting US Attorney in the settlement reached with Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, opposition to which apparently caused Walpin’s dismissal in the early months of Barack Obama’s presidency, wanted a permanent appointment to the position. The leniency of the settlement with Obama’s political ally may have been part of an effort by Lawrence Brown to curry favor with the Oval Office:
One of the mysteries of President Obama’s abrupt June 2009 firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin concerns the dispute at the bottom of it all: Walpin’s aggressive investigation of the misuse of AmeriCorps dollars by Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento and an Obama political ally. Johnson was accused of misusing federal grants for St. HOPE, the nonprofit educational organization he founded. Walpin found that Johnson and St. HOPE had failed to use the federal money for the purposes specified in their 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’s investigation led to Johnson being banned from receiving any more federal dollars.
But then the acting United States Attorney in Sacramento, Lawrence Brown, came to Johnson’s aid. Brown made a deal with Johnson, cut Walpin out of the process, helped lift the ban on Johnson receiving federal money, and then attacked Walpin, filing an ethics complaint against him. Without Brown’s actions, it’s possible that Walpin’s investigation might have led to significantly more trouble for Johnson.
What was going on? We now have some new clues. Republican investigators for the Senate Finance Committee and the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform have released a supplement to the 62-page report on the Walpin case they filed last November, and it shows that, at the same time he was blocking Walpin, Brown was seeking an appointment from the Obama White House as the permanent U.S. Attorney. In other words, when Brown let Obama ally Kevin Johnson off the hook, he was hoping to get a job from the Obama White House.
Tapper has the actual report, and further clarifies:
In a report obtained by ABC News to be released this morning, Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the ranking Republicans on the Senate Finance Committee and House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, respectively, suggest that politics — and specifically Walpin’s investigation into Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, an ally of President Obama’s — played a role in Walpin’s removal.
The two make the charges based on evidence that then-Acting US Attorney Lawrence Brown “was actively seeking a Presidential appointment as the U.S. Attorney at the same time he was negotiating a lenient settlement agreement with Kevin Johnson, excluding the Inspector General from the negotiations, and filing a complaint against Walpin with the Integrity Committee,” and communication between Brown and Matthew Jacobs, Johnson’s attorney, which the GOP lawmakers say “do not suggest an appropriately arm’s length negotiating relationship.”
The US Attorney’s office referred ABC News to the Department of Justice. DOJ spokespeople Matthew Miller and Tracy Schmaler declined to comment. Brown is currently on the Sacramento Superior Court and could not be immediately reached for comment.
The White House claims that Brown had raised red flags about Walpin earlier than his efforts to win the US Attorney appointment, but that’s more secondary to the issue. If Brown was pushing to get a cushy and politically ambitious appointment while negotiating with Johnson, that could explain the remarkably easy pass Johnson got from the DoJ over the fraudulent use of federal funds in his case. Walpin objected strongly to the arrangement as insufficient, and it looks as though someone in the White House fired Walpin and smeared him in order to cover up both the arrangement and the political links to the man who conducted it.
This case has percolated a long time, but it looks like it may start boiling over soon.