The situation in Iran and other news had kept me from looking into the firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin until yesterday, when Michelle Malkin’s column slapped me in the face. Wow.
Just a quick preliminary survey of what’s already online convinced me that this story will likely still be making headlines a year from now. As Quin Hillyer said, it makes TravelGate look tame, and the fact that the FBI is reportedly investigating the involvement of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson — an Obama ally and target of one of Walpin’s reports — indicates a potentially serious scandal in the works.
The White House has pushed back hard against the 75-year-old IG, seeking to portray him as senile and incompetent, but Walpin seemed sharp in a Fox News interview with Glenn Beck yesterday. Byron York of the Washington Examiner scored an exclusive with a report from one witness at the May 20 meeting where an administration official claims Walpin was “confused.”
As York explains, a report in the Sacramento Bee that morning had broken new accusations in the case, the board members in the meeting were confrontational, and the witness didn’t get any impression that Walpin was “disoriented,” as the adminstration now claims. Complaints against Walpin by the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento, Lawrence G. Brown, appear “contrived” and “false,” according to The Washington Times.
The problem for the administration, however, is not Walpin. Even if the inspector general were a doddering old fool, as the White House seems eager to imply, a federal investigation is still a federal investigation –and woe unto the administration official who does not cooperate to the full satisfaction of federal investigators. (Ask Scooter Libby about that.)
At this point, every communication between Brown and other officials about AmeriCorps, Mayor Johnson and Walprin’s dismissal is evidence, and any monkey business with evidence in a federal case is a serious crime. Communications among officials trying to figure out how to slow an investigation or “spin” the scandal can easily result in charges of obstruction of justice and/or conspiracy.
Federal investigations are sticky like flypaper. It was the accusation that Mayor Johnson had destroyed e-mails relating to Walpin’s investigation that reportedly got the FBI sniffing around in Sacramento. And lots more folks might soon be sniffing around.
Tidbits of news reported by the Bee — “Chris Young, the mayor’s former special assistant, left City Hall last month for a job as an associate under Jeff Bleich, a special counsel to the president” — could arouse curiosity. Bee columnist Marcos Breton says of Mayor Johnson, “There is seemingly always a skeleton poised to fly out of Johnson’s closet.” With so many Washington journalists interested in this case, how long before one of them books a flight westward and starts filing stories with a Sacramento dateline?
It’s not just journalists and FBI agents sniffing around AmeriCorps, however, and Mayor Johnson isn’t the only one who’s being scrutinized. Buried in the last paragraph of today’s New York Times story is this paragraph:
Senator Charles E. Grassley, Republican of Iowa, who has taken up Mr. Walpin’s complaints, has asked the Obama administration to provide further information about the dismissal. On Wednesday, Mr. Grassley asked Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. to look into whether Mr. Brown’s complaint was appropriate. He also wrote to Gregory B. Craig, the White House counsel, asking questions raised by [presidential special counsel Norman L.] Eisen’s letter.
Holder and Craig are not rookies on the scandal-management circuit, of course, but Grassley is no rookie senator, either. And the Wall Street Journal‘s John Fund notes that at least one of Grassley’s Senate colleagues may soon take an interest:
Here’s hoping that Senator Joe Lieberman, who has shown streaks of independence in the past as chairman of the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, is willing to hold a hearing on the firing and give Mr. Walpin a chance to defend himself.
Grassley has other questions, too, as Ann Sanner of the Associated Press reported:
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa requested that Alan Solomont, chairman of the government-run Corporation for National and Community Service, which runs the AmeriCorps program, provide “any and all records, e-mail, memoranda, documents, communications or other information” related to contacts with officials in the first lady’s office. . . .
Michelle Obama’s former chief of staff, Jackie Norris, is expected to join the national service corporation as a senior adviser on June 22.
One way or another, this story could take a long, long time to play out. They say the weather in Sacramento is lovely in June.