Byron York stays on the curious case of Gerald Walpin, the Inspector General who got fired shortly after objecting to a sweetheart deal for an Obama supporter. Senator Jeff Sessions has taken an interest in the case and some evidence that the Department of Justice may have played an inappropriate role in cutting that deal, one not revealed by the White House. York reports that the US Attorney for Sacramento made an odd public statement about stimulus funds for Sacramento, and now refuses to answer questions from Congress about it:According to a senior Republican aide, Sessions’ interest was piqued by a statement made in a late March television interview by Rep. Doris Matsui, the Democratic congresswoman who represents Sacramento. Asked whether Johnson’s problems could prevent the city from receiving stimulus funds, Matsui said that, at Johnson’s request, she had “been in conversation with officials at the White House and OMB [Office of Management and Budget] and others to ensure that we don’t lose any money at all.”
Within days of Matsui’s statement, a settlement was reached. Johnson was unsuspended, and in a particularly unusual move, acting U.S. Attorney Brown issued a press release hailing the arrival of stimulus funds. “The lifting of the suspension against all parties, including Mayor Johnson, removes any cloud whether the City of Sacramento will be prevented form receiving much-needed federal stimulus funds,” Brown wrote.
Republicans on the Judiciary Committee want to know why a U.S. attorney was touting his own actions in bringing stimulus money to the city. That’s not the normal role of prosecutors. “We need to hear whether the settlement in this case was tainted in any way by political influence or political factors,” says the senior Republican aide.
So far, Brown has refused to answer any questions. In June, Rep. Darrell Issa, the ranking Republican on the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent a list of 20 questions to Brown and received no response. A follow-up in July was similarly ignored. “Your unwillingness to be cooperative with our investigation raises further questions about your role in this matter,” Issa wrote Brown.
Clearly, the administration cut the deal for political reasons. Obama wanted stimulus dollars to flow to Sacramento, and Johnson’s record of defrauding the government prevented it, thanks to laws in place to keep federal funds from being given to people who have already abused it. That’s precisely why Walpin objected to the settlement in the first place — because it effectively neutered those laws in Johnson’s case.
The question here is what role a US Attorney played in circumventing those laws in order to win a political settlement for Obama. The US Attorney has the responsibility to enforce those laws, not to find ways around them for people who violate the public trust. If Rep. Matsui leaned on the White House and OMB, and then if the White House leaned on Brown, then that is an abuse of power, especially when conducted on behalf of a campaign supporter for Obama. Brown’s refusal to answer implies that there may be fire along with the smoke on this matter.