White House briefs Hill aides on IG dismissal

Trying to assuage concerns about President Obama's dismissal of the AmeriCorps inspector general late last week, White House officials have briefed Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee staffers and are expected to hold another meeting with aides, said Capitol Hill sources.

Aides to Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joseph Lieberman, I-Conn., and ranking member Susan Collins, R-Maine, requested more information about the dismissal after last week's abrupt announcement that Gerald Walpin, a watchdog who had recently alleged misuse of AmeriCorps funds by an organization founded by one of Obama's political allies, would be suspended with pay from his post at the Corporation for National and Community Service.

A committee aide said there have been "near daily" discussions with White House officials, most recently on Monday, regarding the timing of the Obama administration's notice to Congress that Walpin would be fired, as well as the underlying reasons for Walpin's removal.

"The White House has been forthcoming," said the aide. "They're trying to work with us on this."

Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, sounded the alarm about Walpin's dismissal Thursday, saying Obama might have compromised the independence of all IGs by the move. His staff has been in close contact with the White House Office of Legislative Affairs regarding the matter.

Grassley has asked the head of the Corporation for National and Community Service to provide "any and all records, e-mail, memoranda, documents, communications or other information" that his agency had with the office of First Lady Michelle Obama, whose former chief of staff will join the agency as a senior advisor later this month."

Lawmakers have raised concerns about whether the president failed to follow the letter and spirit of the Inspector General Reform Act enacted last year, which requires that the president give Congress 30 days notice before terminating an IG.

The administration points to concerns raised by acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown -- a Bush administration appointee -- about Walpin's conduct during an investigation involving Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, an Obama friend.

Walpin, named to his post in 2007 by then-President George W. Bush, accused Johnson of misusing over $800,000 in AmeriCorps funding granted to a nonprofit organization that Johnson helped to run.

The matter has been referred to an independent federal council that oversees inspectors general.

"For obvious reasons, we won't get into details of a personnel decision like this, but I can tell you that the president lost confidence in Mr. Walpin's performance," White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Thursday.

Walpin claims he was blindsided by a call from White House ethics chief Norm Eisen Wednesday, in which he was informed that he must decide within an hour to resign or be terminated. The White House informed members of Congress that Walpin would be removed in letters sent the following morning.

On the other side of the Capitol, majority and minority staffs of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee are requesting answers from the White House regarding the dismissal.

Oversight and Government Reform ranking member Darrell Issa, R-Calif., wrote to White House Counsel Gregory Craig Tuesday to request documentation explaining why Walpin was dismissed. Issa has requested communications between the White House counsel's office and the Justice Department regarding Walpin by June 26.

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