Benjamin B. Wagner, an Assistant U.S. Attorney in the Eastern District of California, was nominated Thursday to lead the Sacramento-based office. The White House made the announcement in a brief news release Thursday evening that was not posted on the White House Web site. No biographical information was given about Wagner in the news release.
If confirmed, Wagner would replace Acting United States Attorney Lawrence G. Brown, who has been running the office since January, after Bush-appointee McGregor William Scott resigned.
Brown was caught up in the controversy about fired AmeriCorps inspector general, Gerald Walpin. Read our previous report about Walpin here.
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Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) is threatening to delay confirmation of Justice Department nominees unless he gets answers from the administration about the abrupt firing of the AmeriCorps inspector general, Gerald Walpin.
Grassley revealed his plans in a little-noticed statement inserted into the record of a Senate Judiciary Committee DOJ oversight hearing Wednesday. But we here at Main Justice found it. Read his statement here.
Walpin, a Bush administration holdover, claims he was dismissed from his watchdog post at the Corporation for National and Community Service for political reasons. The controversy is growing, with political bloggers abuzz and both Grassley and Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.) protesting. Grassley is a long-time government watchdog, and McCaskill helped enact a law requiring the president to give 30 days notice and his reasons for sacking an IG.
Walpin had issued reports about possible misuse of funds in programs run by an Obama supporter, Kevin Johnson, a former professional basketball player who is now the mayor of Sacramento, Calif.; and by the City College of New York. Walpin told the New York Times that major Democratic fund-raiser Alan Solomont, who is on the board of the Corporation, wasn’t happy. In response, the White House issued a statement basically describing Walpin as suffering from dementia.
In his statement, Grassley said he wants Attorney General Eric Holder to explain the role the acting U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of California and the department played in referring the allegations of misconduct and incompetency against Walpin to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency. The acting U.S. Attorney in question is Lawrence G. Brown. Read Brown’s bio here.
Specifically, I want to know whether department regulations require a U.S. Attorney to obtain prior approval of any allegations of misconduct by non-department government officials prior to a referral for investigation or sanction. If there are regulations, I want to know if they were followed in this instance by the acting-U.S. Attorney and who at the department knew of and who approved the allegations of misconduct prior to the referral.
Grassley said he’s discovered that preventing votes on nominees can be an effective way to get cooperation:
“So, until we start getting some answers to these outstanding requests, I’m noticing my intention to hold certain Justice Department nominees,” he said. “I’ll make sure my holds are open and transparent so that the department knows what they need to produce before I release the nominee. Hopefully, this will get the attention of the Attorney General and the rows of Justice Department staffers sitting behind him.”
The Iowa Republican didn’t identify which nominees he might block. DOJ Office of Legal Counsel nominee Dawn Johnsen, Civil Rights Division nominee Thomas Perez and Tax Division nominee Mary L. Smith are still waiting for votes before the full Senate. Office of Legal Policy nominee Christopher Schroeder’s confirmation hearing is next Wednesday. Grassley spokesperson Beth Pellet Levine said Grassley has not said which nominees he would delay if he doesn’t get satisfactory answers.
The Iowa senator had other grievances, too. He said in his statement that Justice hasn’t answered questions he sent to the FBI more than a year ago.
Grassley said he gave Holder a “full binder” of his outstanding questions before he was confirmed by the Senate. Holder and Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legislative Affairs Ron Weich said they would work to answer all outstanding queries, Grassley said in the statement.
“Well, we confirmed Mr. Weich and it still seems to be business as usual at the department,” Grassley wrote. “I’m tired of hearing nominees say one thing and do another.”