By Carrie Dann
June 17, 2009
The White House informed Congress Tuesday night that federal officials requested a review of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin's conduct after a May 20, 2009, board meeting "at which Mr. Walpin was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve."
In a letter to the chairman and ranking member of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, White House ethics chief Norman Eisen also noted that in the resulting review, Walpin's absence from Washington surfaced as well as evidence that the IG "had exhibited a lack of candor in providing material information to decision makers; and that he had engaged in other troubling and inappropriate conduct."
Reached for comment Tuesday, Walpin said there was "no merit" to the White House's statement about the May 20 meeting, saying that during that conference he had a "disagreement" with board members over the conduct of a case involving a nonprofit organization run by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, an Obama friend.
"We had a disagreement," Walpin said. "They broke into what I was saying."
Walpin, who worked at the Corporation for National and Community Service, the agency that includes AmeriCorps, described the White House's description of his conduct as an attempt "to shore up what was otherwise a clear failure to provide any sort of reason for the termination."
In January, Walpin tried to step down from his post because he no longer wanted to commute weekly to Washington from his home on New York's Park Avenue.
But he rescinded his resignation within days and announced he would work from New York -- which he did until dismissed by President Obama last week.
According to a source familiar with agency operations, Walpin's decision to telecommute met with objections from the agency director, although it apparently was not in direct violation of his contract.
Nonetheless, his not being present at agency headquarters was a cause for great concern, the source said.
In an interview earlier Tuesday Walpin confirmed his decision to stay in New York was originally made because he no longer wished to make the commute to Washington. He said he wanted to resign in January when then-President George W. Bush -- who appointed him to the post -- left office.
He said he rescinded his resignation after entreaties from his staff to do so.
"They said ... [they] had never seen nor had an IG as great as I was, who would work hard, take the time to support the staff and help the staff and represent the whole office so well," Walpin said.
He heard no complaints after deciding to work mainly from home, Walpin added.
On Tuesday, sources familiar with communications between the White House and key lawmakers indicated that the Obama administration has been trying to provide evidence that Walpin's ouster is justified.
The administration has publicly stated only that the president "lost confidence" with the IG.
House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., requested Tuesday that his committee be briefed on the matter, saying that the White House's justifications to date for Walpin's dismissal have been inadequate.
"I believe disclosure of the investigations of Mr. Walpin's conduct that prompted his removal is necessary in the interests of transparency and accountability," Towns said in a written request to the White House.
Towns said he does not believe that the president violated the law by his abrupt firing of Walpin, as some -- including House Oversight and Government Reform Committee ranking member Darrell Issa, R-Calif., -- have suggested but warned that "the lack of information has prompted uninformed speculation in the media and by members of Congress."
The White House briefed the staff members of the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Monday. Participants declined to discuss details, citing the sensitivity of the information.
In a written response this week to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, White House General Counsel Gregory Craig noted that a council that oversees federal inspectors general has been investigating Walpin's conduct. The probe was launched in response to Walpin's handling of an investigation of a nonprofit group run in part by the Sacramento mayor.
Walpin said he knows of no basis for his dismissal. He vigorously denied that his ouster could have been motivated by anything other than political pressure and insisted that he is under no scrutiny for potential criminal or unethical conduct.
"I know of no basis whatsoever," Walpin said. "If there were any basis, it would only be fair for [the president] to have called me in ... and tell me what the basis is and ask for my side of the story. He never did."
He dismissed as "frivolous" the suggestion that he could potentially be implicated in any ongoing investigation into allegations of criminal or unethical activity.
"If there had been [any such allegation], I would have heard about it."
Late Tuesday, Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., who is a close ally of the president, issued a statement that sharply criticized the administration's handling of the matter and for "fail[ing] to follow the proper procedure in notifying Congress" of Walpin's removal.
"'Loss of confidence' is not a sufficient reason," she said. "I'm hopeful the White House will provide a more substantive rationale, in writing, as quickly as possible."
By Carrie Dann
June 17, 2009