Published July 07, 2009
The chairman of the board that convinced President Obama to fire its inspector general last month complained that Gerald Walpin was creating too much friction with agency administrators, according to notes from a May meeting obtained by FOXNews.com.
The account adds a vital new layer to the explanation the White House gave for the firing, which made only passing reference to such concerns in justifying the removal of Walpin, former IG for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees the volunteer service AmeriCorps. The official explanation emphasized Walpin's personal behavior at the May 20 meeting.
The informal meeting notes, taken by CNCS Counsel Frank Trinity, said that board members were indeed concerned about Walpin's "behavior."
They said there were "long pauses" in the discussion while Walpin reviewed his notes, and he did not appear able to "process the information" in his notes when he was being questioned by the board. In the notes, Trinity wondered whether Walpin was experiencing a "mini-stroke" or "some type of medical event."
But the account also shows that Chairman Alan Solomont stated concern about Walpin's accusations against the board and not his mental health as the apparent cause for the dispute that led to Walpin's termination.
In its explanation, the White House noted that Walpin was "confused" and "disoriented" at the May 20 meeting, insisted on working from home and exhibited a "lack of candor" with decision makers.
But the notes are sure to raise more questions on Capitol Hill about whether the firing was rooted more in the agency's desire to get Walpin off its back than legitimate concerns about his ability to perform his official duties.
According to the notes, Walpin said at the start of the meeting that he was feeling "discomfort" about the "anything goes" attitude of the management, and was concerned that things had gone downhill since former CEO David Eisner was succeeded by Nicola Goren. And he threatened to escalate his call for a deeper probe into a politically touchy case that had already ended in a legal settlement.
According to the notes, Solomont said in response that the board had no interest in a "contentious relationship" with the IG, that the board "takes umbrage" at Walpin's "personal attacks" on board personnel, and that the board "wonders" whether Walpin's "judgment is clouded."
A congressional investigator who participated in a three-hour meeting with Trinity on Monday told FOXNews.com that it was clear the board sought Walpin's ouster because of hurt feelings and professional friction, even though inspectors general are supposed to be free to challenge staff at their respective agencies. The investigator, who requested anonymity, argued the White House did not thoroughly review the matter.
"It was the disagreements between the IG and the senior management at the agency that provoked the board to remove Walpin," the investigator said. "The senior people at the agency chafed under Walpin's oversight. ... They communicated this to the board, which rubber-stamped senior management. [The board] took it to the White House, which rubber-stamped the board."
A representative for the corporation declined to comment on the meeting notes, but referred FOXNews.com to a June 17 letter from Solomont and other board members to Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, outlining their concerns with Walpin.
The letter said that over "an extended period of time" they observed that Walpin's effectiveness had "significantly diminished," but that the May 20 meeting was a breaking point.
"Without an IG who can focus time and energy on areas of greatest risk, we are hampered in effectively discharging our responsibilities to you and your colleagues," they wrote. "Our concerns became paramount after an event in May involving the full board of directors that caused us collectively to question Mr. Walpin's ongoing ability to carry out his duties."
Walpin's firing last month prompted widespread criticism from Republicans like Grassley who questioned whether he was removed for political reasons, since he was investigating the alleged misuse of federal grants by Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and a supporter of President Obama. The probe found Johnson and his academy, St. HOPE, which received $850,000 in AmeriCorps money, had misused the funds and volunteers for personal purposes.
Though the White House claims the decision was "carefully considered" and cited several reasons, Trinity's notes suggest board members were particularly agitated by Walpin's insistence on pursuing that case further.
The notes showed Walpin was not satisfied with the settlement reached in the case, in which Johnson and his academy were to repay about half of the federal grants.
The former inspector general warned the board he would not be silent in the face of a "total waste of corporation assets," according to the notes. He complained about allegations that St. HOPE directors destroyed key Johnson e-mails, and said he would be asking for the FBI and a special prosecutor to convene a grand jury to investigate.
"This really alarmed the board," the congressional investigator said, attributing the board's unanimous decision to request a White House review to that friction.
In a letter from the White House last month to key lawmakers, counsel Norman Eisen said Walpin had become "unduly disruptive to agency operations" and had lost the "confidence" of the board and agency. But the letter made no reference to the St. HOPE matter or the board's concern that Walpin would have drawn more publicity to it.
As to the White House charge that Walpin was "confused," the investigator said it is "virtually undisputed" that Walpin had trouble answering questions at the May 20 meeting.
"He was having, I guess, a senior moment," the source said.
Walpin acknowledged to FOXNews.com last month that at one point he was having trouble referencing his notes, though he contested the White House explanation for his firing.
Trinity's notes reflect that Walpin was having great difficulty. Trinity wrote that board members were challenging Walpin on his apparent threat to issue a public statement on the St. HOPE matter, but that Walpin denied making such a threat.
"Once he finished his presentation, he was unable to engage substantively with the board on any questions they raised; he simply argued that what they were saying was not the case," Trinity wrote.
An additional set of notes submitted by board member Stan Soloway, and obtained by FOXNews.com, also said that at that point Walpin seemed "totally confused."
But the congressional investigator said that Trinity made clear that the alleged confusion did not trigger his firing.
"The guy's getting fired not because he had a senior moment," the source said. "He's getting fired because there's a dispute between management and the IG."