An AmeriCorps official urged a colleague to “destroy” documents relating to the controversial firing of the agency’s inspector general, according to emails obtained by a conservative news site. AmeriCorps says the request was made out of concern for the independence of the IG’s office, after documents on the firing were mistakenly sent its way. But news of the episode is giving new life to a story the Obama administration had hoped was dead.
Yesterday, CNSNews.com, a conservative news site, published an email exchange it obtained through a FOIA request related to the firing this summer of Gerald Walpin as inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service. Walpin, backed by the conservative media, has claimed that he was dismissed for zealously pursuing an Obama ally for financial misconduct, and is now suing AmeriCorps over the firing. The administration has said concerns about Walpin’s performance and temperament led to his removal.
The email exchange obtained by CNSNews.com dates from June 11, the day after Walpin’s ouster. That morning, Ranit Schmelzer, CNCS’s director of communications, forwarded to Ken Bach, the acting IG, talking points on the firing, prepared by the White House. Schmelzer wrote, “Ken—here are the WH materials in case they’re helpful,” and copied to two other AmeriCorps officials on the email, including Frank Trinity, the agency’s general counsel, who had played a role in the Walpin firing.
The talking points had been sent to Schmelzer the previous day by a White House counsel, under the headline “CONFIDENTIAL: FOR BRIEFING PURPOSES ONLY.” CNSNews.com describes them like this:
They went on to say that Walpin had “delivered a disastrous presentation” at a May 19 CNCS board meeting and that he “displayed excessively antagonistic behavior to agency grantees and espoused a ‘gotcha’ mentality.”
The White House talking points also criticized Walpin for living in New York and working in Washington, and pointed to the ethics complaint made against Walpin by Brown regarding Walpin’s investigation of Johnson’s non-profit group, St. Hope Academy because Walpin “spoke with the press, inappropriately, during the pendency of the investigation.”
About 45 minutes after sending the talking points to Bach, Schmelzer sent him another email:
The send [sic] two WH documents were sent in error. Can you please destroy them? And can you confirm that you receive this e-mail?
Bach soon replied: “Confirmed, the documents were shredded.”
Schmelzer then forwarded the message about the shredded documents to Trinity, the general counsel.
In a response to CNSNews.com, Schmelzer pointed out that, despite her request that Bach destroy them, the agency retained the documents. And indeed, they were turned over to CNSNews.com through its FOIA request. And a CNCS spokeswoman forwarded them to TPMmuckraker this afternoon.
The spokeswoman, Ashley Etienne, also told TPMmuckraker that the documents were “confidential” and “not intended for [Bach],” and said that Schmelzer asked him to destroy them in order to protect his office’s autonomy. “The IG is independent,” said Etienne. “So it only makes sense to maintain that boundary, to protect his independence.” She said that Bach’s response to Schmelzer, referring to having “shredded” the documents, was “bad wording.”
A separate question is why Bach, whose job is to investigate agency misconduct, complied with Schmelzer’s request — an action that Walpin described to CNSNews.com as “shocking.” Bach’s spokesman had no comment on that issue to either CNSNews.com or to TPMmuckraker.
None of this proves the existence of any kind of cover-up over the firing — much less that the firing itself was improper. But given the controversy that Walpin’s dismissal generated, anything that gives new life to the story has to be bad news for the White House.