Former Democratic White House Counsel, GOP Attorney General Contest White House Claim That Fired IG Was ‘Confused’ and ‘Disoriented’

June 24, 2009 - 11:40 AM
A letter signed by a former Republican U.S. attorney general, a former Democratic White House Counsel, and 144 other prominent lawyers is challenging the White House's claim that fired AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin was "confused" and "disoriented."

Gerald Walpin, former inspector general for the Corporation of National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – A letter signed by a former Republican U.S. attorney general, a former Democratic White House Counsel, and 144 other prominent lawyers is challenging the White House’s claim that fired AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin was “confused” and “disoriented."
 
“We have known Gerald Walpin as a leading member of the New York bar for many years,” said the letter signed by former Bush Attorney General Michael Mukasey and former Clinton White House Counsel Bernard Nussbaum. “Many of us have seen him and heard him speak, including at this month’s meeting of the Second Circuit Judicial Conference and last week’s meeting of the Board of the Federal Bar Council.”
 
“We have never seen Mr. Walpin to be ‘confused, disoriented [or] unable to answer questions,” the letter continued.
 
President Barack Obama fired Gerald Walpin, 77, inspector general for the Corporation of National and Community Service, which runs the youth volunteer program AmeriCorps. The June 11 firing became controversial because Walpin had led an investigation that in September 2008 found that St. HOPE Academy, a charity run by Kevin Johnson, a political ally of President Obama and now the mayor of Sacramento, had misused federal grant money from AmeriCorps.
 
Initially, Obama sent a letter to House Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.) and Vice President Joe Biden (who is president of the Senate), saying that he fired Walpin because he had lost confidence in him.  "It is vital that I have the fullest confidence in the appointees serving as inspectors general," Obama said in the letter. "That is no longer the case with regard to this inspector general."
 
However, after Obama announced the firing, several members of Congress, including Sens. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.), said the president may not have complied with the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008. The act, which Obama co-sponsored as a senator, requires the president to give Congress 30 days notice that he is terminating an inspector general and to provide an explanation for the firing.
 
In a follow-up letter to Sen. Grassley, White House Counsel Greg Craig pointed to criticism by the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento of Walpin’s conduct in regard to the inspector general’s investigation of St. HOPE Academy. He pointed out that the acting U.S. attorney had complained about Walpin’s behavior in that case to the ethics office of inspectors general. 
 
In a further response to criticism of the firing, Norman Eisen, special counsel to the president for ethics and government reform, sent a letter to Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), respectively the chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security Committee -- the committee with oversight of inspectors general. The letter was also sent to committee member Sen. Claire C. McCaskill (D-Mo.).
 
“Mr. Walpin was removed after a review was unanimously requested by the bi-partisan Board of the Corporation,” Eisen wrote. “The board’s action was precipitated by 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.”
 
The letter from 146 attorneys criticizing that claim was sent Tuesday to White House Counsel Greg Craig, as well as Senate Homeland Security Chairman Lieberman, and ranking member Susan M. Collins (R-Me.); Senate Finance Chairman Max Baucus (D-Mont.) and ranking member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) ; House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) and ranking member Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.).
 
“We have known Mr. Walpin as a leading member of the New York Bar for many years,” said the letter. “Many of us have seen and heard him speak, including at this month’s meeting of the Second Circuit Judicial Conference and last week’s meeting of the Board of the Federal Bar Council.”
 
The signers also include four former U.S. attorneys and three former federal judges. Former federal judges who signed are Mukasey, Abraham Sofaer and John Martin. Also, Richard Pointer, former special counsel to the president for ethics (the position Eisen now holds) signed the letter. Former New York City Police Commissioner Robert McGuire also signed on.
 
“We have never seen Mr. Walpin to be ‘confused, disoriented [or] unable to answer questions,’” said the letter. “While none of us was present at the meeting referred to in Mr. Eisen’s letter, we can report only that such an allegation is totally inconsistent with our personal knowledge of Mr. Walpin who has always, through the present day, exhibited a quick mind and a command of the facts (whether we agree with him or not) and eloquence -- essentially the opposite of someone who is ‘confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions.’”
 
The letter concludes: “We note that the singers of this letter include both Republicans and Democrats, voters for both President Obama and Senator McCain, and many who do not agree with Mr. Walpin’s personal political views. But all of us are unanimous in affirming Mr. Walpin’s integrity and competence.”
 
Walpin was appointed to the position by President George W. Bush and is reportedly a registered Republican.
 
Walpin told CNSNews.com last week that he would like to see a congressional hearing on his termination and also scoffed at the charge that he was confused.
 
Walpin’s investigation found that federal money intended for the charity run by Kevin Johnson allegedly was used to pay for political activities and to run personal errands for Johnson. In a settlement with federal prosecutors, St. HOPE agreed to pay back more than $400,000 to the Corporation for National and Community Service.
 
Walpin said he was fired for doing his job and the White House called him “confused” and “disoriented” for lack of a legitimate reason for the termination.
 
“I think it’s absolutely desperation on their part,” Walpin said. “The first reason they gave me for my termination was that the president thought I ought to move on. The second reason the president expressed was that he lost confidence in me. That was in a letter to Congress. Of course, that’s not a reason, that’s a conclusion.”
 
“My firing has a chilling effect on other IGs," he said. “The best way to handle that --aside from President Obama admitting that he made a mistake -- is to have a congressional hearing so that all facts can be put out for the public to see.”
 
Walpin also said, “Let’s assume they’re even right--which I say is not correct--they and the corporation have met with me hundreds of times. Not one occasion have they ever said anything but that I’m very eloquent. Indeed, on the Tuesday before I was fired, one of the top management people in the corporation begged me to go out to San Francisco and speak to 2,0000 members of their staff and grantees at a conference because they thought my ability to speak was so great.”