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Republicans make new accusations in Walpin firing

By Ed O'Keefe
Washington Post Staff Writer
Saturday, December 19, 2009; A02

Congressional Republicans raised new concerns this week about the Obama administration's firing of Gerald Walpin, who served as inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service.

GOP lawmakers said White House visitors logs contradict statements made by the former chairman of CNCS, the agency that oversees AmeriCorps.

The White House asked Walpin to resign or face termination in June, after agency officials complained of a difficult working relationship with the Bush administration appointee. The dismissal earned a bipartisan rebuke from lawmakers concerned that the White House failed to follow proper procedures by not giving Congress 30 days' notice before removing Walpin.

The Obama administration later produced several documents to support the decision, including notes from a May agency board meeting where Walpin appeared confused and unable to answer questions. Walpin, 78, disputed those claims. The Obama administration also cited a parody newsletter produced by Walpin's office that included racial and sexual jokes about the federal procurement process. Walpin said it was misinterpreted.

Republicans questioned statements by Alan Solomont, CNCS's former board chairman who is also Obama's nominee to be ambassador to Spain. Solomont told Republican investigators in July that he only discussed the Walpin matter with the White House counsel's office, according to Republican aides. Visitor logs released in November show Solomont made 17 visits to the White House beginning in January, including a June 9 meeting with Michelle Obama's then-chief of staff, Jackie Norris. That meeting occurred five days after it was announced that Norris would leave her White House post to be a senior CNCS adviser and a day before Walpin was dismissed. Republicans suggest Solomont and Norris discussed the case.

"If the White House fired an IG without a thorough investigation, and only because a prominent political donor like Alan Solomont requested the action, that's simply not acceptable," said Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), ranking Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

Issa aides asked Solomont to clarify his original statements during a Dec. 8 meeting arranged by Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who has also investigated the matter. White House aides who accompanied Solomont cut the meeting short when Issa aides asked about those statements, according to Issa's office. The White House disputes that, saying Solomont answered all questions.

"The White House has worked closely with members of Congress on both sides of the aisle and produced several thousands of pages of documents and e-mails about the decision to remove Mr. Walpin, and there's not a single shred of evidence to substantiate Congressman Issa's most recent partisan attack," White House spokesman Joshua Earnest said.

Lawyers for Walpin this week moved for a summary judgment of the federal wrongful termination case he filed in July in U.S. District Court in Washington. Walpin hopes a federal judge will reinstate him so he can complete an investigation into the Sacramento-based school founded by the city's mayor, Kevin Johnson. Walpin's office discovered that Johnson's St. Hope Academy had misused approximately $850,000 in AmeriCorps funding. The Justice Department settled the matter with Johnson.

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