As featured on p. 218 of "Bloggers on the Bus," under the name "a MyDD blogger."

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Wind Up The Wurlitzer

Joe Conason has a good piece on the firing of Bush Administration appointee and Americorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin, which has all the earmarks of a full-fledged hissy fit. Conason thinks the right is attempting to gin up Whitewater redux.

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.

And it is true as well that Lawrence Brown, the United States attorney in Northern California who received Walpin's findings, decided not to bring any criminal charges against Johnson and instead reached a settlement with him and St. Hope.

That settlement, filed last April, is a public document that reflects no great honor on Johnson, to put it mildly. But it also voided any possibility of a "coverup" by Obama or anyone in his administration. The case against Johnson had concluded months before the president acted to dismiss Walpin -- and in fact only drew attention to the case by doing so, as he must have known would happen.

Just as salient as the accusations against Johnson, however, are those brought by Brown against Walpin. A Republican named as the acting U.S. attorney by Bush, Brown filed a sharply worded complaint against Walpin with the oversight office for the federal inspectors general that charged him with ethical violations in an overzealous assault on Johnson and St. Hope. The U.S. attorney said that Walpin had "overstepped his authority by electing to provide my office with selective information and withholding other potentially significant information at the expense of determining the truth" -- in other words, Walpin had failed to provide substantive exculpatory facts to the U.S. attorney, while trying to push the government into opening a criminal probe of Johnson. During the election season in Sacramento, Brown noted that Walpin had sought publicity for his findings against Johnson in the local media before discussing them with the U.S. Attorney's Office, "hindering our investigation and handling of this matter."

Here the parallels with the early history of Whitewater seem nearly perfect. Brown's levelheaded handling of Walpin's exaggerated charges against Johnson are much like the dismissal of the original Whitewater complaints by Charles Banks, the U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., and an honest Republican who refused to gin up a phony indictment of the Clintons before the 1992 election (and lost his job as a result). And Walpin's excessive zeal and lust for publicity bear a startling resemblance to the antics of L. Jean Lewis, the Resolution Trust Corp. official who concocted a series of implausible theories implicating the Clintons in the looting of an Arkansas savings and loan.

Walpin, incidentally, is a longtime movement conservative and a trustee of the Federalist Society. He obviously has plenty of friends ready to publicize his martyrdom. Already Judicial Watch has offered their aid, which again is a rerun, as they were the wingnut front organization largely responsible for so many drummed-up Clinton scandals in the 1990s. Darrell Issa, the Congressman who bankrolled the recall of Gray Davis in 2003, is trying to attack the credibility of Lawrence Brown by asking him to explain his complaint against Walpin. And Walpin himself wants Congressional hearings.

You can pretty much write the rest of this script yourself. Obviously it may go nowhere and just get relegated to the back pages of conservative fundraising newsletters and "Obama Body Count" email forwards. But at least some elements of the right are trying to turn this into a Whitewater Reunion Tour. And all we know the conservative noise machine/traditional media "jump/how high" relationship.

Keep an eye on this.

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