Gerald Walpin, the former Inspector General for the Corporation for National and Community Service whom President Obama took the unusual step of firing last month, filed a lawsuit against the CNCS on Friday in U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia
The suit seeks to force "to reinstate Mr. Walpin as the Inspector General and to declare unlawful and ineffective the efforts to date to terminate him from his office." In addition, the suit seeks that Walpin be awarded "costs and legal fees associated with this action" as well as any "further relief as may be appropriate in this matter."
White House deputy press secretary Josh Earnest told ABC News that the Obama administration "complied fully with the Inspector General Reform Act. The bipartisan leadership of the Senate committee that oversees IG's agrees. We strongly believe these claims are without merit and will be rejected by the courts."
Earnest was referring to a June 19 letter from the Senate Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee Chairman Joe Lieberman, I-Conn., ranking GOPer Susan Collins, R-Me., and Sen. Claire McCaskill, D-Mo., saying that based on information the White House provided "we believe you have met the letter and spirit of the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008 with respect to congressional notifications of removal or transfer."
Walpin is expected to issue an official statement about the lawsuit on Monday.
The suit alleges that on or about June 10, Walpin "was unlawfully removed and transferred from his position as Inspector General precisely because he had performed his duties in an effective manner, supporting his career staff in their objective findings of wrongdoing, based on their audits and investigations, the truth of which those who sought to remove him did not want published."
The suit takes particular issue with the White House assertion that at one board meeting Walpin "was confused, disoriented, unable to answer questions and exhibited other behavior that led the Board to question his capacity to serve."
The suit, filed by attorneys from Greenburg Traurig LLP, asserts that Walpin suffered and continues to suffer "very real reputational, vocation and economic injuries … from the obvious loss of his post and the associated income and health insurance, to having his mental faculties questioned with not-so-subtle, and completely unfounded, suggestions of senility."
The lawsuit says that "(w)hile not the object of the instant pleading, it is plain that without the relief sought by this complaint the conduct at issue raises serious questions of age discrimination, retaliation against whistleblowers and defamation."
Walpin's lawsuit says the action taken by President Obama not only harmed Walpin personally but also the integrity of the Inspector General system.
As we've covered, on June 11 President Obama fired Walpin, who had been criticized for his handling of an investigation into the use of AmeriCorps funds by a community group called St. HOPE Academy, founded by Kevin Johnson, former point guard of the Phoenix Suns, who was elected Mayor of Sacramento last November and is an ally of the president’s.
In April of this year, St. HOPE Academy agreed to pay a $423,836.50 settlement — $72,836.50 of which would be paid personally by Mayor Johnson.
But Walpin didn't approve of the settlement, or the way it was handled, and said he was "proud" that he and the Inspector General's office "refused to go along with the U.S. Attorney’s office and the Corporation in bowing to the media and political pressure that resulted in this hasty settlement, contrary to the interests of the United States Government."
In a June 11 letter from President Obama to congressional leaders, the president said he no longer had the fullest confidence in Walpin as Inspector General.
A subsequent letter from White House counsel Greg Craig noted that Walpin’s termination “is fully supported by the Chair of the Corporation (a Democrat) and the Vice-Chair (a Republican)" and said that Lawrence Brown, the “Acting United States Attorney for the Eastern District of California, a career prosecutor who was appointed to his post during the Bush Administration, has referred Mr. Walpin’s conduct for review by the Integrity Committee of the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency.”
In that April 29 letter from Brown to Kenneth Kaiser, chair of the Integrity Committee for the Counsel of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, the Acting US Attorney wrote "to express my Office's concerns about the conduct" of Walpin in the handling of the Johnson case, complaining that "Walpin viewed his role … as the investigator, advocate, judge, jury and town crier."
Walpin pleaded for his job when White House attorney Norm Eisen called him to notify him of the decision.
Some in Congress took issue with the way Walpin was fired, which appeared to them to not comply with the rules laid out in the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008, which was co-sponsored by then-Sen. Obama.
The author of that bill, key Obama ally Sen. McCaskill initially said that the "White House has failed to follow the proper procedure in notifying Congress as to the removal of the Inspector General for the [CNCS]. The legislation which was passed last year requires that the president give reason for the removal. 'Loss of confidence' is not a sufficient reason." The law requires that 30 days' notice be given to Congress before an Inspector General is fired.
McCaskill later backed off her opposition, though Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, demanded more answers.
Walpin's lawsuit asserts that "no investigation was made into the facts alleged as the basis for Mr. Walpin's termination" and the White House made no attempt to interview him or any of his colleagues in his office. Moreover, the suit asserts, the Integrity Committee of the Counsel of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency was" not provided an opportunity to review the matter before the precipitous termination," contrary to the Inspector General Reform Act of 2008.
The suit also identifies as defendants CNCS acting chief executive officer Nicola Goren, chief human capital officer Raymond Limon, and general counsel Frank Trinity.
* This post was updated with the White House response.