York: Walpin firing a railroad job

Byron York continues his investigative reporting on the firing of Inspector General Gerald Walpin, finding that the Obama administration has begun to stonewall Congress on the matter.  Well they might, as York discovers that the White House has lied about investigating Walpin.  Three of the commissioners on the Corporation for National and Community Service board claim that the White House never bothered to contact them about the controversial meeting, strongly suggesting a railroad job to get Walpin out of the way:

There’s no question that members of the board, both Democrat and Republican, were unhappy with Walpin’s criticism of them.  They agreed that Alan Solomont, the Democratic fundraiser appointed by President Barack Obama as chairman of the board, should tell the White House what had happened.

But now, at least three board members have told congressional investigators they did not specifically recommend that the administration fire Walpin.  Instead, they simply wanted the chairman to express their concerns.

The White House claims it investigated the matter; Eisen told House and Senate aides that officials did an “extensive review” of complaints about Walpin’s performance before deciding to fire him.  But there are serious doubts as to whether the White House did, in fact, conduct a serious investigation before getting rid of Walpin.

The three board members have told Congress that the White House did not contact them during the review.  (One was told about Walpin’s firing at about the time it happened, and the other two were contacted days later.)  No one from the White House contacted Walpin himself, or his top assistant, as part of the review.

All were present at the contentious May 20 meeting. If officials at the White House were really trying to discover what happened at that session, congressional investigators say, it would have wanted to hear their version of events.  But no questions were asked.

That belies any claim to have investigated Walpin and his conduct at the May 20th board meeting.  Instead, it shows that Obama made up his mind to fire Walpin and had Eisen come up with a plausible rationale based on the unsubstantiated complaints of the CNCS board members.  That certainly fits with the White House’s actions.  First, they tried to bully Walpin into resigning, and when that didn’t work, they tried claiming him to be mentally incompetent.

Now that Congress has taken an interest, the White House has begun to circle the wagons — and they’ve pulled an Antonio Gonzales maneuver to do it:

All in all, the “extensive review” appeared more of a sham review — an exercise designed to support a decision that had already been made.  Nor has the White House been open about it.  “Information provided to my staff by Mr. Eisen has been incomplete and misleading,” Republican Rep. Darrell Issa wrote in a July 1 letter to White House counsel Gregory Craig.

For its part, the White House is hinting broadly that it might invoke executive privilege to keep documents from Congress.  “Your questions seek information about the White House’s internal decision-making process,” Craig wrote to Sen. Charles Grassley on June 30.  “These questions implicate core executive branch confidentiality interests.”  At another point, Craig pledged to cooperate “to the fullest extent possible consistent with constitutional and statutory obligations.”

Unlike the dismissal of US Attorneys, who work entirely at the pleasure of the President, the termination of an IG is not a matter of executive privilege.  IGs do not report only to the executive branch, but also to Congress, and for good reason.  The arrangement keeps them from feeling political pressure to either initiate investigations of a president’s political opponents or to stop investigations of a president’s political ally.  Congress has to be consulted on terminations by law; the President cannot fire IGs at whim.

When the Bush administration claimed executive privilege on discussions of the status of their political appointees, Congress responded by suing Bush, Karl Rove, Harriet Miers, and Gonzales.  Those lawsuits only recently were withdrawn after a settlement between the parties.  Will the same Democrats who attacked that claim of executive privilege on the handling of US Attorneys speak up against the Obama administration’s attempt to smear and intimidate an Inspector General?  Don’t hold your breath.