Salena Zito

The upside to Gerald Walpin’s firing as inspector general for the federal agency that oversees AmeriCorps is that he could appear in one of those “Organizing for America” ads that highlight Americans who have lost their jobs along with their health care.

It’s just a thought.

Walpin became the center of some media attention last week for suspending Barack Obama supporter Kevin Johnson, a former NBA star and now mayor of Sacramento, for irregularities in his use of federal money when he ran a charity.

Walpin was asked by the board of the Corporation for National and Community Service to investigate the charity, St. HOPE, which received an $850,000 AmeriCorps grant to tutor Sacramento students, to redevelop buildings and to develop local art and theater programs.

Walpin’s investigation found that the money instead was used to sugar the salaries of the charity’s staff, to get involved in a local school board election, and to make AmeriCorps volunteers attend to Johnson’s personal needs, including washing his car.

Last May, Walpin’s office recommended the suspension of Johnson and an assistant at St. HOPE from receiving federal money.

None of this was an issue until November, when Johnson was elected mayor of Sacramento. City-hired attorneys concluded this past spring that Sacramento could be forbidden from receiving federal stimulus funds because of Johnson's suspension.

Six weeks later, Walpin got a call from a White House lawyer. The order was clear: Resign within the hour, or you will be fired.

Walpin went for the firing.

Unfortunately for the Obama administration, Congress had passed the Inspectors General Reform Act – which then-Senator Obama co-sponsored – requiring a president to give Congress 30 days notice, plus an actual reason, before firing an inspector general.

Big-time Obama supporter Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., immediately declared after the firing that the president did not follow procedure and she was waiting for him do so.

Twelve hours after her chiding, Obama responded in a letter to the Senate committee that oversees AmeriCorps that Walpin was so “confused” and “disoriented” that the administration questioned “his capacity to serve.”

The letter, authored by Norman Eisen, the president’s special counsel on ethics, clearly described Walpin as either on the edge of sanity or showing early signs of Alzheimer's.

Salena Zito

Salena Zito is a political analyst, reporter and columnist.