White House: Firing AmeriCorps IG an act of "political courage"
A top White House lawyer called the firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin an act of "political courage," according to House Republican aides who were in a meeting with the lawyer Wednesday.
Norman Eisen, who is the White House Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, met with staffers for Rep. Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform on Wednesday. Eisen, along with another White House staffer who accompanied him, "wanted to talk broadly about inspectors general," says a GOP aide familiar with what went on at the meeting. "When we pressed them on specific questions and documents, they said they weren't prepared to give us information on that."
In one exchange, according to the GOP aide, the White House lawyers explained that inspector general Walpin was not working well with the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps, and the administration believed that IGs should work well with the leadership of their agencies. Eisen said he knew that removing Walpin might be seen as an action that would raise questions. "But [Eisen] said that what they did in trying to fix the situation was an act of political courage -- and 'political courage' is the phrase they used," says the aide.
Republicans, along with a few Democrats, have been concerned about the White House's methods in removing Walpin. The law requires the president to give Congress 30 days' notice, plus the cause for the firing of an inspector general. In Walpin's case, the White House called Walpin out of the blue, gave him one hour either to resign or be fired, and only later notified Congress, and then without giving any cause for its action. Only later, after a lone Democrat, Sen. Claire McCaskill, said the White House "failed to follow the proper procedure" and requested a written explanation for the firing, did the White House respond.
White House refuses to answer Senate questions on AmeriCorps IG firing
Norman Eisen, the White House Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform, met with investigators on the staff of Republican Sen. Charles Grassley at Grassley's offices Wednesday morning. The investigators wanted to learn more about the circumstances surrounding the abrupt firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin. According to Grassley, Eisen revealed very, very little, refusing to answer many questions of fact put to him. And now Grassley has written a letter to the White House counsel asking for answers.
The questions relate to a letter Eisen sent to some senators Tuesday night attributing Walpin's dismissal, in significant part, to Walpin's behavior at a May 20, 2009 board meeting of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the organization that oversees AmeriCorps. Eisen wrote that at the meeting, "Mr. Walpin was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the board to question his capacity to serve." After the meeting, Eisen wrote, Walpin lost the confidence of the Corporation Board. The White House conducted a review of the matter, and Walpin was fired. (For a detailed account of Walpin's reaction to the White House charges, see here.)
At Wednesday's meeting, Sen. Grassley's staffers wanted to know more about the White House review. "Unfortunately," Grassley writes in a letter sent late Wednesday afternoon to White House counsel Gregory Craig, "Mr. Eisen refused to answer several direct questions posed to him about the representations made in his letter." Grassley says that since Eisen refused to answer the questions in person, Grassley would submit a dozen of them in writing. Here they are:
1) Did the [Corporation for National and Community Service] Board communicate its concerns about Mr. Walpin to the White House in writing?
2) Specifically, which CNCS Board members came forward with concerns about Mr. Walpin’s ability to serve as the Inspector General?
3) Was the communication about the Board’s concerns on or about May 20, 2009 the first instance of any communications with White House personnel regarding the possibility of removing Mr. Walpin?
4) Which witnesses were interviewed in the course of Mr. Eisen’s review?
5) How many witnesses were interviewed?
6) Were any employees of the Office of Inspector General, who may have had more frequent contact with Mr. Walpin than the Board members, interviewed?
7) Was Mr. Walpin asked directly during Mr. Eisen’s review about the events of May 20, 2009?
8) Was Mr. Walpin asked for his response to the allegations submitted to the Integrity Committee by Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown?
9) What efforts were made during Mr. Eisen’s review to obtain both sides of the story or to afford the Office of Inspector General an opportunity to be heard?
10) In addition to the claim that Mr. Walpin was “confused” and “disoriented,” the letter also says he exhibited “other behavior” that led to questions about his capacity. What other behavior was Mr. Eisen referencing?
11) If the initial and primary concern had to do with Mr. Walpin’s capacity to serve for potential health reasons, why was he only given one hour to decide whether to resign or be fired?
12) If Mr. Walpin’s telecommuting arrangements since the beginning of this year were a major concern, then why was Mr. Walpin not simply asked to stop telecommuting?
Grassley asks the White House for a response in writing by Wednesday, June 24.