Saturday, June 20, 2009
By Joe Conason
June 19, 2009 | To Barack Obama's most excitable adversaries, the firing of the Americorps inspector general that the president ordered last week is an incipient scandal, as loud and thrilling as Whitewater once was. Their fond memories of that ancient controversy (and its many sequels) were revived by the sudden dismissal of Gerald Walpin, a Bush administration appointee who has depicted himself as the victim of a political conspiracy. Insinuations and smears abound already -- including an attempt by the usual suspects to drag the first lady into the mud, Hillary-style, on the basis of anonymous allegations.
The latest accusations of White House impropriety are indeed reminiscent of the Clinton wars. But before conservatives spin themselves into a grand mal frenzy, they ought to understand that the strongest parallels between "Walpingate" and Whitewater are the palpable flimsiness of the charges and the questionable motives of the chief accuser. Unless there is much more to this story than what responsible journalists have found so far, the buzzing chatter on the right will soon subside into a disappointed murmur.
According to the wingnut version, Walpin is a heroic investigator who was ousted simply because he exposed misspending of hundreds of thousands of federal dollars by an Obama ally, namely former NBA star Kevin Johnson, who ran a nonprofit organization in Sacramento that received Americorps funding before he was elected mayor of the California state capital last fall. Walpin had to be removed on June 11, after he refused the president's request that he resign, because the White House was trying to cover up Johnson's wrongdoing and permit his city to receive federal stimulus money.
That simple and sinister scenario, like so many of the media descriptions of Whitewater, omits crucial facts.
It is true that Walpin found evidence of misuse and waste of Americorps funds by St. Hope Academy, a nonprofit community group started by Johnson after he retired from the NBA. It is true that Johnson and St. Hope have acknowledged that they must refund roughly half of the money that the group received from Washington. But it is also true that Walpin, a Republican activist attorney and trustee of the Federalist Society before Bush appointed him as inspector general, went well beyond his official mandate last year by publicizing supposed "criminal" wrongdoing by Johnson in the days before the Sacramento mayoral election....(Remainder.)