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Former Obama lawyer admits deceiving Congress

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Politics,Beltway Confidential,Byron York

Remember the Gerald Walpin affair?  Republican Sen. Charles Grassley does.

Walpin was the inspector general of the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the organization that runs the AmeriCorps service program.  In June 2009, Walpin received a call from Norman Eisen, who was then the Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform.  Eisen told Walpin he had an hour to either resign or be fired.

Eisen's call appeared to violate the 2008 Inspectors General Reform Act, which is designed to protect inspectors general from political interference.  The Act requires the president to give Congress 30 days' notice, plus an explanation of cause, before firing an inspector general.  In Walpin's case, the White House did neither.

Walpin had made some CNCS political appointees unhappy by tenaciously investigating misuse of AmeriCorps funds by Kevin Johnson, the former NBA star who is now mayor of Sacramento, California and a prominent supporter of President Obama. When Grassley and other lawmakers found out that Walpin had been summarily fired, and that a political motive might be involved, they demanded an explanation.

There was no doubt the White House had failed to give Walpin 30 days' notice, but on the substance of the matter, Eisen told congressional investigators the White House had done a full investigation of complaints about Walpin's performance and the CNCS board had unanimously supported Walpin's removal.

Neither statement was true.

Republican investigators released a report on the matter that was strongly critical of White House actions, and particularly Eisen's actions, in the Walpin firing.  As it turned out, even though interest in Walpin faded, Eisen's statements would come back to haunt him, because in June 2010 President Obama decided to nominate Eisen to be U.S. ambassador to the Czech Republic.  The job, of course, requires Senate confirmation.  And that means any senator can stop a nomination.  So in September 2010, Grassley announced that he was placing a hold -- not a secret hold, but an entirely public one -- on Eisen's nomination.  Grassley specifically cited Eisen's "lack of candor" about the Walpin matter.

Before he would lift the hold, Grassley wanted the White House to admit that Eisen had lied.  The White House declined.  Facing a deadlock, President Obama recess-appointed Eisen to the ambassadorial post.  Of course, the recess appointment was temporary, and now it is running out.  The White House faced a choice: give up on Eisen or re-submit his nomination and 'fess up to deceiving Grassley so that Eisen might ultimately be confirmed.

The White House chose to 'fess up -- sort of. After weeks of back-and-forth, Eisen has written a letter to Grassley admitting he did not tell congressional investigators the truth.  Concerning his claim that the CNCS board unanimously supported Walpin's removal before the White House acted, Eisen writes, "To be clear, at that time, CNCS board members did not express to the White House, verbally or otherwise, unanimous support for the removal of Mr. Walpin."

In a meeting with Grassley, Eisen apologized for his statements to investigators.  In the letter, Eisen writes, "It is now my understanding that I answered a few of the questions inaccurately, although at the time I thought they were accurate. Of course, it was not my intent to mislead staff in any way, but to the extent that I was unclear in my responses, or that my declining to answer questions created confusion, I regret it and I sincerely apologize."

It's not the admission of lying that some Republicans wanted to hear.  But after receiving the letter, Grassley decided to relent.  "It was clear to me that Mr. Eisen made false and inaccurate statements," the senator said in a statement.  "He personally apologized and admitted to the basic factual findings of my inquiry, which was enough for me to allow the Senate to work its will in the confirmation process."

If Eisen is confirmed -- and it appears he will be -- it will be without Grassley's support.  Even though Grassley decided to let the nomination move forward, he says he will vote against Eisen because of Eisen's "attempt to bypass" the requirements of the law regarding inspectors general.

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Byron York

Chief Political Correspondent
The Washington Examiner