Allies of official fired by Obama mount defense

Allies and former colleagues of Gerald Walpin, the inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service fired by President Obama, are mounting an aggressive defense of his integrity and competency.

A bipartisan group of 145 current and former public officials, U.S. attorneys and legal scholars signed a letter vouching for his competency. The June 23 letter was sent to White House Counsel Gregory Craig, as well as the chairmen and ranking members of the Senate Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee, the Senate Finance Committee and the House Government Oversight panel.

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“We have known Gerald Walpin as a leading member of the New York Bar for many years,” they wrote. “Many of us have seen him and heard him speak including at this month’s meeting of the Second Circuit Judicial Conference and last week’s meeting of the Board of the Federal Bar Council.”

The letter was a response to White House Special Counsel Norman Eisen, who characterized Walpin as “confused, disoriented” and “unable to answer questions” during a May 20 meeting of the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service. Eisen made that charge in a letter to Sens. Joe Lieberman (I-Conn.) and Susan Collins (R-Maine), the chairman and ranking member of the Homeland Security and Government Affairs Committee.

Those who signed the letter include: former Attorney General Michael Mukasey; Bernard Nussbaum, President Clinton’s former counsel; former U.S. Attorneys Otto Obermaier, John Martin, Zachary Carter and Andrew Maloney; and six former and current presidents of the Federal Bar Council.

The missive is the latest salvo in the uproar over Walpin’s firing earlier this month.

His defenders argue his removal was politically motivated, and that Walpin is an effective watchdog who blew the whistle on the president’s friends and pet causes.

In early June, Obama dismissed Walpin, who was appointed to his position during the Bush administration. He had served as the inspector general for the federal agency that oversees volunteer programs such as AmeriCorps.

Walpin’s removal came after he had investigated St. Hope Academy, a California nonprofit that had received an $850,000 AmeriCorps grant. The nonprofit was run by former NBA star and Obama supporter Kevin Johnson, who is now the mayor of Sacramento.

Walpin’s report alleged that AmeriCorps funds were misused to supplement staff salaries, and for political purposes. Johnson and St. Hope eventually agreed to repay a substantial portion of the grant.

The U.S. attorney for the area, Lawrence Brown, did not pursue charges against Johnson, instead filing an ethics complaint against Walpin for overstepping his authority in his investigation of Johnson. An integrity committee for inspectors general has yet to rule on the complaint.

Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Finance Committee, and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), the most senior GOP member of the Government Oversight panel, have questioned the reasons for Walpin’s firing and the way in which he was dismissed. They are seeking communications between the White House, the Department of Justice’s criminal division and the Sacramento U.S. attorney’s office to determine whether the firing was politically motivated.