Secrecy, suspicion, and the IG investigations.
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Ironically, as Byron York of the Washington Examiner has reported, publicity about scandals at AmeriCorps — especially the taxpayer money misspent by a charity founded by former NBA star Kevin Johnson, an Obama ally who is now the Democratic mayor of Sacramento — was exactly what the administration had hoped to squelch by firing Walpin.
That move has clearly backfired. In addition to the discovery process of a federal lawsuit and the Lieberman-Collins investigation, Walpin’s case is also the subject of a separate inquiry by Sen. Chuck Grassley — the Iowa Republican regarded as the Senate’s patron saint of IGs — as well as an FBI investigation into allegations that someone in Sacramento deleted e-mails relevant to Walpin’s investigation of Johnson’s St. HOPE charity.
Beyond that, Walpin’s dismissal was the first of three similar cases of pressure against IGs, along with the termination of ITC inspector general Judith Gwynne’s contract and the sudden retirement of the Amtrak IG Fred Wiederhold.
Those familiar with the investigations caution against “playing connect-the-dots” with these three distinct cases. However, some informed Republican sources are beginning to call attention to other evidence of a concerted effort to blindfold, muzzle or neuter watchdogs — especially those who dare to growl at Democrats.
Why, for instance, did Rep. John Larson (D-Conn.) rush through the House a bill that would give President Obama power to dismiss five inspectors general — including the IG for the Securities and Exchange Commission — who under existing law report to the agency heads?
The IGs themselves have protested against the Larson bill, which has yet to be debated in the Senate, and it has not escaped notice on Capitol Hill that Larson is a prominent “Friend of Chris.” That would be Sen. Christopher Dodd (D-Conn.), chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. Dodd is under intense scrutiny for a number of shady-looking activities — “Chris Dodd Update” has become a regular feature at Professor Glenn Reynolds’ popular Instapundit blog — and Dodd is also facing a tough re-election bid next year.
No one on the Hill has yet directly suggested that the Larson bill — which could effectively muzzle watchdogs at five federal financial agencies — was specifically intended as assistance to the embattled chairman of the Senate Banking Committee. But as liberal bloggers used to say about the Bush administration’s activities, some Republicans have begun to “question the timing.”
Timing is very important in politics, and both Republicans and Democrats are beginning to look ahead to the 2010 mid-term elections. Projections of double-digit unemployment and mushrooming deficits are already causing some Democratic jitters. The questions being asked about the IG investigations and Obama’s promises of “transparency” now dangle like a sword of Damocles above the heads of Democrats on the Hill.
If Democrats take a “methodical” approach to the investigations, working behind closed doors with Rule 29 to prevent public disclosure, they risk Republican accusations — fair or unfair — that they are “dragging their feet” or worse. On the other hand, if Democrats begin to express public skepticism about the Obama administration’s “transparency” rhetoric, they risk repercussions from the “Chicago Way” of hardball politics that Team Obama seems to have brought to Washington.
And at the center of all this nervousness and suspicion stands the junior senator from Connecticut, Joe Lieberman, who campaigned last year for Republican “Maverick” John McCain. That would be the same Joe Lieberman who is now an independent because left-wingers backed millionaire newcomer Ned Lamont against him in the 2006 Democratic primary. And Chris Dodd was among the Democrats who campaigned for Lamont.
Lieberman prides himself on bipartisanship and integrity. Three weeks ago, he reacted furiously to an accusation by the Washington Times that his committee was failing to pursue the IG investigation. Since then, the “methodical” Lieberman has said little, while Republican suspicions have flourished.
Yet Democrats may have suspicions of their own. Given the vicious treatment the chairman endured from some Democrats three years ago, one veteran Washington journalist told me last week, Lieberman “don’t owe those people squat.”
Amtrak IG: Important Background
July 14: IG-Gate: Sincere Doubts
July 14: The Little Scandal That Could
July 9: Democrats Question AmeriCorps Official’s Stonewall on IG Case
July 1: Malkin on IG-Gate: Does the Endangered Species Act Include Watchdogs?
June 26: Grassley: Amtrak ‘Systematically Violated’ IG Law
June 25: Eleanor Acheson: Lobbyist
June 25: Obama Plays Hardball With Watchdogs
June 23: Amtrak IG Probe: Who Is Eleanor Acheson?
June 19: IG-Gate: Domino Theory
June 18: AmeriCorps Scandal Won’t Go Away Soon
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