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Friday, November 27, 2009
Inspector-general fired: Obama cover-up of underage sex scandal?
By John H. Fund @ 7:24 AM :: 7253 Views :: National News, Ethics

Anatomy of a Coverup

By John Fund

The Obama Administration remains addicted to the "Chicago Way" of hardball politics. One of the clearest examples was last June's firing by the White House of Gerald Walpin, inspector general of the government service program AmeriCorps.

Mr. Walpin complained at the time his ouster was due to his dogged investigation of misspent AmeriCorps money in a program run by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a major Obama backer. Mr. Walpin's firing by the White House was done in direct contravention of a 2008 law meant to protect inspectors general from political retribution. Mr. Obama himself co-sponsored the law as a Senator.

Now a GOP Congressional report by investigative staffers working for Senator Chuck Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Darrell Issa of California has laid bare some of the reasons the White House acted so brazenly.

In 2008, three female students at the St. HOPE Academy, a charter school in Sacramento, claimed inappropriate advances had been made by Mr. Johnson, who ran the school and was running for mayor. Mr. Johnson, a former NBA star, had been plagued by charges of sexual misconduct ever since his days as a player in the 1990s.

Mr. Walpin's investigators concluded that Kevin Hiestand, the attorney for Mr. Johnson, had approached at least one of the complaining students and asked her to remain quiet. About a week later, Mr. Johnson himself offered her a payment of $1,000 a month until she left school, which she refused to accept. Erik Jones, the St. HOPE teacher who eventually reported one of the victims' allegations to the police, resigned in protest, claiming the school also had sought to intimidate the student into changing her story.

In addition to uncovering the possible use of "hush money," Mr. Walpin concluded that the misuse of AmeriCorps funds by St. HOPE was serious enough for him to press for criminal prosecution of Mr. Johnson, by now Sacramento's mayor. Instead, a deal was worked out that allowed the mayor to repay much of the money. It was approved by Alan Solomont, a major Democratic fundraiser who chairs the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps.

It was Mr. Solomont who then led the campaign to have the White House fire Mr. Walpin, using trumped-up charges that he had engaged in an inappropriate persecution of Mr. Johnson. Norm Eisen, a White House counsel, upped the ante by claiming that at a May meeting, the inspector general "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve."

Documents delivered to Senator Grassley and Rep. Issa make it clear the real motive for Mr. Walpin's firing was his aggressive investigation of Mayor Johnson. But Congress shows no interest in pursuing the ruthless firing of a government watchdog. Here's hoping that Senator Joe Lieberman, the Connecticut independent who has shown streaks of independence in the past on the Senate Governmental Affairs Committee, is willing to press for a hearing on the matter.

John Fund is a columnist for the Wall Street Journal


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