Meet the new boss …

Remember the huge controversy brewed by congressional Democrats when president George W. Bush’s Justice Department dismissed seven United States Attorneys on Dec. 7, 2006?

Democrats conveniently ignored the fact their unlikely hero, President Bill Clinton, had sought the resignations of all 93 U.S. attorneys — including one who had been probing some of the crimes of the Clintons and their Arkansas cronies — upon taking office in 1993.

Well, the Obama administration seems to have grown unhappy over AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin’s probe into the misuse of hundreds of thousands of dollars in federal funds by Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star who is now mayor of Sacramento and a prominent supporter of President Obama.

The heart of the matter is a dispute that began last year over Mr. Walpin’s recommendation that Johnson and his “St. HOPE” charity be barred from receiving and using federal grant money. The process is known as “suspension and debarment,” meaning that Johnson would be suspended from receiving federal funds under any current arrangement and might ultimately be barred from receiving any such funds in the future.

“The whole purpose of suspension and debarment,” Mr. Walpin explains, “is to say that somebody who was involved in the misuse of government funds in the past should not be trusted with federal funds in the future.”

In the course of his investigation, Inspector General Walpin found Johnson and St. HOPE had failed to use the federal money they received for the purposes specified in their grant and had also used federally-funded AmeriCorps staff for, among other things, “driving (Johnson) to personal appointments, washing his car, and running personal errands.” In September 2008, after reviewing Mr. Walpin’s evidence, Americorps officials ordered the suspension, with the distinct possibility that it would lead to a permanent debarment.

That was during the Sacramento mayoral campaign. Johnson’s critics raised the possibility that, as mayor, the suspension would mean the city could not receive federal funds. “That’s absurd,” candidate Johnson told the Sacramento Bee. “As mayor, I’m going to go out there and shake down as many resources as I can for Sacramento.”

But the issue did not go away after Mr. Johnson took office. It became far more pressing in late January, when Congress passed the $787 billion stimulus bill and Sacramento officials hoped that millions of federal dollars would soon arrive. On March 21, the Sacramento Bee reported that, “The city of Sacramento likely is barred from getting federal money — including tens of millions the city is expecting from the new stimulus package — because Mayor Kevin Johnson is on a list of individuals forbidden from receiving federal funds, according to a leading attorney the city commissioned to look into the issue.”

Mr. Walpin learned his fate last Wednesday night. He was driving to an event in upstate New York when he received a call from Norman Eisen, special counsel to the president “for ethics and government reform.”

“He said, ‘Mr. Walpin, the president wants me to tell you that he really appreciates your service, but it’s time to move on,’” Mr. Walpin recalls. “Eisen said, ‘You can either resign, or I’ll tell you that we’ll have to terminate you.’”

The method of Mr. Walpin’s attempted firing could be a violation of the 2008 Inspectors General Reform Act, which requires the president to give Congress 30 days’ notice, plus an explanation of cause, before firing an inspector general.

When Mr. Walpin refused to quit, the White House informed Congress and began the legally required 30-day countdown.

They’ll still have to think up a “reason.”

Does President Obama have the right to remove an inspector general? Sure — despite that new law, intended to put limits on that power, which legislation was co-sponsored by, um … U.S. Sen. Barack Obama.

Although that right is not quite as clear-cut and well-established as was the right of President George W. Bush to call for the resignation of any U.S. attorney he pleased — since they clearly “serve at the president’s pleasure.”

Was the Walpin firing the right thing to do?

Heck, no. Barack Obama is covering up for a prominent supporter caught with his hand in the cookie jar.

Such maneuverings should not surprise those familiar with “politics as usual.” But they may surprise some who actually believed a silken-voiced Chicago ward heeler when he claimed, last year, that he wanted to go to Washington to bring about some kind of fundamental “change.”

One Comment to “Meet the new boss …”

  1. John Brook Says:

    Does this hypocrisy surprise anyone?