A former acting U.S. Attorney tied to the abrupt firing of the former AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin sought a presidential appointment that would allow him to keep his job as U.S. Attorney, according to a report by congressional Republicans that was obtained by ABC News.
The report, released Tuesday by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), and Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), provided new information on the role played by Lawrence G. Brown, the former acting U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of California, in Walpin’s dismissal. Grassley is the top Republican on the Senate Finance Committee, while Issa is the ranking member of the House Oversight and Government Reform panel.
In the report, Grassley and Issa allege that Brown referred allegations of misconduct against Walpin to the Council of the Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency in an effort to curry favor with the Obama administration and to obtain the U.S. attorney post. The council is an organization of all presidentially appointed inspectors general.
Some back story: In January 2007, Walpin was appointed the inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, known as AmeriCorps. In 2008, Walpin’s office opened an investigation into Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson, an Obama supporter, over the possible misuse of federal funds. In August 2008, Walpin referred the investigation to the U.S. Attorney’s Office in the Eastern District of California. Brown, who was then acting U.S. attorney, decided not to pursue criminal charges and Johnson and his organization — the St. Hope Academy — agreed to repay the federal government some of the money. (For a full blow-by-blow, see here and here).
Brown later filed a complaint with the Council of Inspectors General on Integrity and Efficiency, a government watchdog that monitors the conduct of inspectors general, that Walpin had hindered his investigation and made improper comments to the media.
Walpin was later dismissed by the Obama administration, which he alleged was politically motivated. In response, the White House issued a letter to members of Congress, which questioned Walpin’s mental health and his ability to serve. Republicans leaped on the allegation and released a report in November that is also critical of Walpin’s firing. Grassley last year also threatened to hold up Justice Department nominees if he didn’t get more info from the White House on Walpin’s dismissal.
Tuesday’s report was a supplemental to the November release and contained several new documents, including a January 2009 letter from Brown to Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) seeking a recommendation for the U.S. Attorney post. U.S. Attorney Benjamin Wagner was ultimately nominated by President Obama in August.
“None of the documents produced after the publication of our initial report undermine or conflict with the conclusions of the report,” the report released Tuesday said. “Arguably, some of the new documents could actually reinforce the public perception that the Inspector General was removed for political reasons. In particular, the revelation that the Acting U.S. Attorney was seeking a Presidential appointment at the time he filed a complaint against Walpin puts that complaint in a different light.”
The report also included excerpts from e-mails between Brown and Matthew Jacobs, Johnson’s lawyer. The report said the e-mails “do not suggest an appropriately arm’s length negotiating relationship.”
For example, the report cited this March 2009 e-mail exchange between Jacobs and Brown discussing a letter to the editor Walpin wrote about the Johnson matter:
“Larry, I expressed my outrage over Walpin’s letter to the editor to Ken, who I’m sure has communicated it to you, but that did not have the fully cathartic effect I desired so I must try another tack:
1. The U.S. Attorney (Greg) already told this guy once he’s not supposed to speak publicly about federal cases in this District.
2. He’s not supposed to speak publicly about federal cases in this District. The DOJ regs explicitly state that the U.S. Attorney is the primary spokesperson for all federal law enforcement in the District. Moreover, Hilburg has stated repeatedly, and as recently as Saturday’s Bee article, that he can’t comment on ongoing investigations. So Walpin knows he’s not supposed to comment.
3. WTF is wrong with this guy! First, he tried to effect the election; now he’s messing around with the entire region’s federal funding! Over this case?!
In all seriousness, the U.S. Attorney needs to stand up and say this isn’t right. The U.S. Attorney represents the face of justice in this District, and for this District. Please.
Reply from Brown: “Message heard loud and clear, Matt. I am at a complete loss and do in fact plan to speak with Gerald Walpin this morning and expressed my views in no uncertain terms. I am not going to get into details of what was said.”
“Together with his efforts to obtain a political appointment from the President, Brown’s communications with Johnson’s attorney contribute to the appearance that Walpin’s removal was more about his vigorous pursuit of the [Johnson] matter than about any other legitimate, unrelated factors,” the report said.
DOJ spokespeople Matthew Miller and Tracy Schmaler declined to comment to ABC News. Brown, who is now serving on the Sacramento Superior Court, could not be immediately reached for comment by ABC News.
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The Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, popularly known as ACORN, has not violated the terms under which it has received federal funding in the last five years, according to a government report released on Tuesday by House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-Mich.).
The report, which was requested by Conyers and House Financial Services Committee Chairman Barney Frank (D-Mass.), was prepared by the Congressional Research Service (CRS). The 82-page report details the research organization’s survey of 46 federal, state, and local investigations concerning ACORN — 11 of which are still pending — and of several congressional probes.
Conyers pointed out that CRS found “no instances of individuals who were allegedly registered to vote improperly by ACORN or its employees and who were reported “attempting to vote at the polls. And, the report says that ACORN has received federal funds, mostly from the departments of Justice and Housing and Urban Development, 48 times in the last five years. In none of those cases did Acorn violate the terms of the funding.
The CRS report does not include findings from a just-announced Government Accountability Office investigation of ACORN’s use of federal funds. House GOP Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said they were informed of the investigation in a Dec. 7 letter from GAO. Smith and Issa were not immediately available for comment on the CRS report.
ACORN, a controversial community organizing group that focuses largely on voter registration and housing, received unfavorable publicity when documentary filmmakers earlier this year released undercover videos that they described as showing ACORN workers giving them advice on how to buy property to use as a brothel. ACORN was already under attack from conservatives and many Republicans on Capitol Hill.
The videos spurred Congress to action. The House passed legislation in September known as the Defund ACORN Act of 2009, and several appropriations bills contained a prohibition on any funds in the bill going to ACORN.
Those actions, in turn, prompted some members of Congress to question whether the legislation respresented unconstitutional bills of attainder. The CRS report raises those questions as well, noting that “courts ‘may have a sufficient basis’ to conclude that the legislation ‘violates the prohibition against bills of attainder.’” However, according to the report, the limited term of the defunding mandated in the appropriations bills “could arguably be justified as an expedience necessary to address an issue of immediate congressional concern, while allowing Congress sufficient time to consider a longer term solution.”
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The Government Accountability Office will investigate the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now’s use of federal funds, two Republican House members announced in a news release today.
Reps. Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) said they were informed of the investigation in a Dec. 7 letter from GAO.
In the letter, the GAO’s Ralph Dawn said the watchdog office has accepted the request to investigate the use of federal funds.
In late November, the Justice Department released a memo concluding the government should pay ACORN for contracts that were in place before President Barack Obama signed legislation banning the community organizing group from receiving federal funds.
Republicans have criticized ACORN and held a forum to discuss allegations of voter fraud and embezzlement against the organization.
Here is the text of the news release from Smith and Issa, with the GAO letter embedded below it:
“House Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) and House Oversight and Government Reform Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) today received notice that the GAO will investigate ACORN’s use of federal funds.
In a letter dated December 7, 2009, the GAO agreed to work with executive branch Inspectors General to provide Congress with a report regarding ACORN’s receipt and use of taxpayer dollars. Ranking Members Smith and Issa issued the following statements applauding the GAO’s decision:
Ranking Member Smith: “I am pleased that the GAO has agreed to review ACORN’s receipt and use of federal funds. Congress has a responsibility to ensure that no taxpayer dollars are allocated to an organization supporting or engaged in criminal conduct. The GAO review is a good start, but given ACORN’s extensive record of criminal conduct, the FBI must also step in. Only an independent criminal investigation conducted by the FBI can get to the bottom of the nationwide allegations against ACORN.”
Ranking Member Issa: “ACORN’s criminal acts over many years have robbed taxpayers and charitable donors of the honest public services ACORN was paid to provide. This GAO study should be another step toward understanding the scope of funds from across the Federal government that were sent to ACORN yet cannot be verified that they were used as intended.”
ACORN is currently under investigation in more than a dozen states. Many members of the organization and its affiliates have been convicted of criminal conduct, including voter registration fraud.
Following the release of undercover videos showing ACORN employees encouraging criminal conduct, Congress voted overwhelmingly to prohibit the provision of federal funds to ACORN. Last week, a federal court struck down the provision as a bill of attainder. Ranking Members Smith and Issa have called on DOJ to appeal the decision.
The GAO, often called the “congressional watchdog,” is a nonpartisan agency that investigates how the federal government spends taxpayer dollars.
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Republican lawmaker Lamar Smith called for U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to appoint a special prosecutor to look into the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN).
The Texan, who is the ranking minority member of the House Judiciary Committee, said he believes the Department of Justice is unable to fairly investigate the organization because of ACORN’s connections to the Democratic Party.
Smith chaired a Republican forum — not an official congressional hearing — on ACORN Tuesday afternoon at which several witnesses made allegations of voter fraud and embezzlement against the organization. Republican members of the House Judiciary panel’s Oversight Subcommittee were joined by members of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee at Tuesday’s gathering.
Hans von Spakovsky, a former Justice Department official who now works for the Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank, said that the Justice Department and FBI “have been almost entirely silent and seemingly negligent,” by not investigating ACORN.
Congress this fall enacted legislation banning federal funds from going to ACORN, but constitutional objections were raised. The Justice Department Office of Legal Counsel last week issued an opinion stating that contracts calling for payments to ACORN already awarded could not be voided.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) claimed that prior to the Justice Department’s decision, ACORN was in bankruptcy and was shutting down offices across the nation. A memo made public last week concluded the government should pay ACORN for contracts that were in place before Congress banned the community organizing group from receiving federal funds.
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The Justice Department released a memo this week concluding the government should pay ACORN for contracts that were in place before Congress banned the community organizing group from receiving federal funds.
Legislation signed by President Barack Obama in October prohibits the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now from receiving federal funds.
Acting Assistant Attorney General David Barron, who oversees the Office of Legal Counsel, stated in an opinion dated Oct. 23 that the language of the law is ambiguous and that the government should honor contracts with Acorn that predated the law. The ban on funding for ACORN came after two conservative activists videotaped employees of the group giving advice on how to launder money and evade taxes.
The deputy general counsel for the Department of Housing and Urban Development had asked the Justice Department for its legal opinion about the pre-existing contracts it had with ACORN. The group has gotten around $53 million from the federal government since 1994, much in the form of grants from HUD, according to the New York Times.
The OLC memo states that the law “should not be read as directing or authorizing HUD to breach a pre-existing binding contractual obligation to make payments to ACORN or its affiliates, subsidiaries or allied organizations where doing so would give rise to contractual liability.”
ACORN got around $200,000 from the Department of Justice through affiliates and subcontracts between 2002 and 2009, according to a report issued last week by the department’s inspector general. Acorn also registers minority and low-income voters - who tend to vote Democratic. It has been a long-time target of conservatives.
Republicans are not reacting well to the legal opinion, writes Jake Tapper on ABC’s Political Punch blog:
The ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., blasted the DOJ opinion as “political cronyism.”
“The bipartisan intent of Congress was clear – no more federal dollars should flow to ACORN,” Issa said. “It is telling that this administration continues to look for every excuse possible to circumvent the intent of Congress. Taxpayers should not have to continue subsidizing a criminal enterprise that helped Barack Obama get elected president. The politicization of the Justice Department to pay back one of the president’s political allies is shameful and amounts to nothing more than old-fashioned cronyism.”
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The House Judiciary Committee endorsed legislation today that would establish the same sentencing guidelines for powder cocaine and crack offenses.
The Democrat-backed “Fairness in Cocaine Sentencing Act of 2009” was reported out of committee by a 16-9 vote along party lines. The legislation would eliminate the 100-to-1 ratio between crack and powder cocaine penalties put in place by Congress in the 1980s. The decades old law gives the same five-year mandatory minimum sentence for the sale of five grams of crack cocaine as it does for the sale of 500 grams of powder cocaine. The legislation supported by the panel today also would abolish mandatory minimum sentences for crack and remove distinctions between powder cocaine and crack offenses.
“This distinction is no longer considered rational,” Rep. Bobby Scott (D-Va.), chair of the House Judiciary crime, terrorism and homeland security subcommittee, said at the meeting today.
Panel Republicans tried to kept mandatory penalties for powder cocaine and crack offenses in place, but were unsuccessful. The committee tabled an amendment offered by Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) that would have maintained a mandatory minimum prison sentence for powder cocaine and crack offenses.
“The bill sends the wrong message to drug dealers and those who traffic in ravaging human lives,” said House Judiciary Ranking Member Lamar Smith (R-Texas) at the meeting. “It sends the message that Congress does not take drug crimes seriously.”
Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer has stood in support of Congress’s efforts to eliminate the differences between crack and powder cocaine sentencing. He said at a hearing in May that the current sentencing policies – which disfavor blacks because crack is generally sold in poor urban communities – are “hard to justify.”
This post has been corrected from an earlier version.
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