Flashback: Obama Fired Inspector General Who Pursued Ally Kevin Johnson

Kevin Johnson and Barack Obama (Kristoffer Tripplaar - Pool/Getty)
Kristoffer Tripplaar - Pool/Getty

Democrats are outraged that President Donald Trump has fired several inspectors general in recent weeks. President Barack Obama came under more muted criticism — most of it from Republicans — in 2009 when he fired AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin, who had pursued an investigation of Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star and mayor of Sacramento, California. Johnson was a supporter of President Obama, suggesting the possibility of political interference.

The Wall Street Journal reported in June 2009:

A George W. Bush appointee, Mr. Walpin has since 2007 been the inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, the federal agency that oversees such subsidized volunteer programs as AmeriCorps. In April 2008 the Corporation asked Mr. Walpin to investigate reports of irregularities at St. HOPE, a California nonprofit run by former NBA star and Obama supporter Kevin Johnson. St. HOPE had received an $850,000 AmeriCorps grant, which was supposed to go for three purposes: tutoring for Sacramento-area students; the redevelopment of several buildings; and theater and art programs.

Mr. Walpin’s investigators discovered that the money had been used instead to pad staff salaries, meddle politically in a school-board election, and have AmeriCorps members perform personal services for Mr. Johnson, including washing his car.

At the end of May, Mr. Walpin’s office recommended that Mr. Johnson, an assistant and St. HOPE itself be “suspended” from receiving federal funds. The Corporation’s official charged with suspensions agreed, and in September the suspension letters went out. Mr. Walpin’s office also sent a civil and/or criminal referral to the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California.

So far, so normal. But that all changed last fall, when Mr. Johnson was elected mayor of Sacramento. News of the suspension had become public, and President Obama began to discuss his federal stimulus spending. A city-hired attorney pronounced in March that Sacramento might be barred from receiving stimulus funds because of Mr. Johnson’s suspension.

Pressure began to build on Walpin, and he was eventually fired, with the call allegedly coming from Obama White House ethics “czar” Norm Eisen. (Eisen was, more recently, counsel to the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment inquiry against President Donald Trump; he used a deceptively edited video in his questioning.)

The Journal reported that Eisen told Walpin that the president “felt it was time for Mr. Walpin to ‘move on,’ and that it was ‘pure coincidence’ he was asked to leave during the St. HOPE controversy.” However, the Obama administration had to change its explanation because of a law requiring a written explanation for such firings be sent to Congress.

Worse, the Obama White House later claimed that Walpin had been “confused” and “disoriented” at a meeting.

Some Democrats protested. But nothing was done, and the media — now following Trump’s firings closely — moved on.

Joel B. Pollak is Senior Editor-at-Large at Breitbart News and the host of Breitbart News Sunday on Sirius XM Patriot on Sunday evenings from 7 p.m. to 10 p.m. ET (4 p.m. to 7 p.m. PT). His new book, RED NOVEMBER, is available for pre-order. He is a winner of the 2018 Robert Novak Journalism Alumni Fellowship. Follow him on Twitter at @joelpollak.

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