Republican Senator Wants to Know Why Obama Fired the AmeriCorps Inspector-General

June 16, 2009 - 6:35 AM
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Washington (AP) - A Senate Republican is asking for information on any role first lady Michelle Obama's office may have played in her husband's decision to fire the watchdog for the federal AmeriCorps program over his investigation of Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.
 
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.
 
White House spokesman Josh Earnest said Monday that Mrs. Obama played no role in the president's decision to remove Gerald Walpin, the national service agency's inspector general. Earnest said administration lawyers were reviewing Grassley's request but have not decided how to respond.
 
Michelle Obama's former chief of staff, Jackie Norris, is expected to join the national service corporation as a senior adviser on June 22. Norris was a senior adviser in Obama's campaign for Iowa's precinct caucuses, and she was state director for his general election campaign in Iowa.
 
The president on Thursday told Congress he had lost confidence in Walpin. White House counsel Gregory Craig, in a letter to Grassley, cited criticism of Walpin's investigation of Johnson, a former all-star point guard for the Phoenix Suns and a supporter of Obama's presidential campaign.
 
Walpin said Friday in an interview with The Associated Press that he reported facts and conclusions "in an honest and full way" while at the corporation. "I know that I and my office acted with the highest integrity as an independent inspector general should act," he said.
 
In September 2008, Walpin's office found misuse of federal grants by Johnson and the St. HOPE Academy, a nonprofit education program he founded. Johnson and St. HOPE ultimately agreed to repay half of $847,000 in grants they had received from AmeriCorps between 2004 and 2007.
 
Walpin was criticized by the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento for the way he handled the investigation of Johnson and the academy. Acting U.S. Attorney Lawrence Brown said in an April 29 letter to the federal counsel of inspectors general that Walpin's conclusions seemed overstated and did not accurately reflect all the information gathered in the investigation.
 
In his letter Friday to Solomont, Grassley also asked for information related to Walpin's performance and contacts the corporation had with the U.S. attorney's office and officials in Obama's executive office.
 
"In light of the removal of the inspector general, it is vital that Congress obtain a full understanding of the role that you and your colleagues at CNCS played in these matters," Grassley told Solomont.
 
At the White House, Earnest called any suggestion that Mrs. Obama had interfered "false and uninformed."
 
"Mrs. Obama is an energetic advocate for the mission of the Corporation for National and Community Service but is not involved in the day-to-day management of the agency," he said.
 
Walpin was appointed by President George W. Bush and sworn into office in January 2007.
 
Both Solomont, a Democrat, and Stephen Goldsmith, a Republican and the board's vice chair, have said they backed the president's decision to fire Walpin.