The White House’s decision to fire the AmeriCorps inspector general was set in motion by a unanimous request it received from the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which asked the White House to review the IG’s performance, according to a board member.
The firing “would not have played itself out” were it not for the fact that the board raised concerns about the IG, Gerald Walpin, after the May 20 board meeting, a board member told TPMmuckraker. The board member added that the White House had no role in encouraging the board to make the review request, calling it “completely board-initiated.” The White House had cited the request from the board in its letter to Congress explaining the reason for Walpin’s firing.
Since the firing, Walpin has claimed that he was fired because the White House objected to his pursuit of an Obama ally, Sacramento mayor Kevin Johnson, in an investigation into the misuse of federal funds. Some conservatives have trumpeted those claims.
The board member explained that the board had had “serious concerns” about Walpin’s judgment, dating to before the May 20 meeting, causing board members to fear the “potential damage [Walpin] could cause to the corporation” through his erratic behavior. But the board member added that “the events of the 20th raised the board’s concerns from concerns about his judgment to concerns about his capacity.”
The original concerns, said the board member, focused on Walpin’s conduct during his investigation of the St. HOPE Academy, the Sacramento nonprofit formerly run by Johnson.
The board member alleged that Walpin had spoken to the Sacramento Bee to publicly criticize the settlement reached between the government and St. HOPE. But a review of news archives suggests that Walpin has not spoken on the record to the Bee about the settlement. Rather, the Bee reported last month that Walpin had submitted a “Special Report to Congress” in which he called the settlement “a farce.” It’s unclear whether Walpin was the source for the Bee’s story.
The board member also said the board was aware of a formal complaint filed by the US Attorney about Walpin’s handling of the probe, and that this too played into its thinking. That complaint — cited also by the White House — made several charges. But the board member specifically mentioned the claim that Walpin had withheld from the findings he turned over to the US Attorney’s office relevant exculpatory information about Johnson and the St. HOPE program.
The May 20 meeting, said the board member, was called because the board wanted to “extend [Walpin] the courtesy of hearing him out” on the St. HOPE issue. After Walpin spoke for about 20 or 30 minutes, board members expressed the view that he was personalizing things, and asked him to remain focused on the issues. In response, said the board member, Walpin “became forgetful and couldn’t remember what he had said twenty minutes ago.”
(The White House cited the fact that Walpin had been “confused” and “disoriented” at the meeting as one reason for firing him. And a board member, speaking to Politico, called the meeting “painful,” adding: “There were several periods of time where there were one- to two-minute pauses where he clearly was confused and was not able to respond to questions and was just going through his notes.”)
According to the White House’s letter, the board’s request for a review of Walpin’s performance was unanimous. The co-chairs of the board are Alan Solomont, a Boston entrepreneur who has been a major Democratic fundraiser, and Steven Goldsmith, the Republican former mayor of Indianapolis. Its other members also come from both parties.
Late Update: A second board member confirms to TPMmuckraker that it was the board’s concerns that led to the firing.
The second board member said that the board had unanimously directed its chair, Alan Solomont, to inform the White House of the board’s serious concerns about Walpin’s performance, and that Solomont had done so.
“No action would have been taken if the board had not, on a bipartisan basis, directed the chairman” to talk to the White House, said the second board member. The move was “entirely unanimous — no division at all.”
As for what had caused the board’s concerns in the first place, the second board member again echoed the first, saying that the board had had worries about Walpin since before the May 20 meeting, but called his performance at the meeting, “the capper.”
At that meeting, said the second board member, Walpin made “ad hominem attacks on individuals that we thought were completely uncalled for.” The second board member declined to elaborate on the nature of those attacks.
The second board member also referred to an investigation of the IG’s office conducted by staff for CNCS’s Equal Employment Opportunity unit, after a complaint. The second board member said that, according to the staffers conducting the probe, Walpin’s response to the investigation had been “intimidating.” The second board member claimed to be unaware of the nature of the original complaint.