Gerald Walpin loses appeal; court guts protections for agency watchdogs
The United States Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia has rejected fired AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin’s lawsuit seeking reinstatement to his job. In a ruling issued Tuesday morning, the three-judge panel — one appointed by the first President Bush, another appointed by President Clinton, and the third appointed by the second President Bush — agreed with a lower-court ruling that Walpin does not have a “clear and indisputable right” to his former job.
In June 2009, Walpin was the inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees the AmeriCorps service program. He had been aggressively investigating the misuse of $800,000 in AmeriCorps grant money given to a program run by Kevin Johnson, the mayor of Sacramento, California who also happens to be a prominent Obama supporter. As a result of Walpin’s investigation, Johnson was, for a while, suspended from receiving any new federal grants. Later, an acting U.S. attorney who was seeking a post in the Obama administration refused to pursue the Johnson matter. Inside the Corporation, Walpin expressed his unhappiness with that decision and his desire to continue investigating corruption in Sacramento.
On June 10, 2009, Walpin received a call from the White House counsel’s office in which he was given one hour to resign or be fired. He chose not to resign and was fired. The action alarmed Republicans on Capitol Hill, particularly Sen. Charles Grassley, because it appeared to violate a law designed to protect the independence of inspectors general by requiring the president to give Congress 30 days’ notice, plus an explanation, before firing an IG.
Later, the White House told Congress that Walpin had not been summarily fired; he had been placed on “administrative leave” for 30 days and then fired And as a reason for the firing, the White House told lawmakers that the president no longer had the “fullest confidence” in Walpin.
Walpin sued, arguing that his removal clearly violated the law. In June of 2010, Walpin lost his case before U.S. District Court in Washington. Now, he has lost before the Court of Appeals. The three-judge panel ruled that the White House’s decision to place Walpin on administrative leave for 30 days (after telling him he was fired) did not violate the law. Further, the judges ruled that Obama’s explanation that he no longer had “fullest confidence” in Walpin “satisfies the minimal statutory mandate that the president communicate to the Congress his ‘reasons’ for removal.”
Back in 1973 Archibald Cox was appointed to be an independent special prosecutor investigating the Watergate break-in. When Cox issued a subpoena to the White House for Oval Office tape recordings, Richard Nixon ordered Attorney General Elliot Richardson to fire Cox.
Richardson refused and resigned. Nixon then ordered Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus to fire Cox and got the same result. Finally Robert Bork did the president’s dirty work. The incident became known as the “Saturday Night Massacre.”
The inspector general is an agency watchdog position. They are supposed to be independent. It defeats the purpose if they can be fired for doing their jobs too well.