What's next in the budding scandal over President Obama's abrupt firing of Gerald Walpin, the inspector general of AmeriCorps?
Republican investigators on Capitol Hill know one thing very well. As minorities in both House and Senate, they have no power to compel the White House to disclose anything. And majority Democrats, at least for now, are not inclined to help the opposition uncover embarrassing facts about one of President Obama's favorite federal programs.
So Republicans are brainstorming things they can do by themselves to shake loose information from an administration that has no obligation to cooperate with them. And indeed, there are a few ways.
The first is to enlarge the scope of the AmeriCorps investigation to include the Justice Department. Walpin was fired in part because of his aggressive investigation of the misuse of AmeriCorps funds by Sacramento mayor and prominent Obama supporter Kevin Johnson. The acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento, Lawrence Brown, took a strongly pro-Johnson position in the matter, even though there's no question that Johnson misused federal money. In the end, Brown played a key role in helping Johnson get off easy and in setting in motion the chain of events that led to Walpin's firing. Republicans intend to pursue the Justice Department for an explanation.
A second possible step involves the candidate, still un-chosen, who will take Walpin's place as the next inspector general for the Corporation for National and Community Service, which oversees AmeriCorps. That person will have to be confirmed by the Senate. Republicans have significant powers to slow down and even block the nomination unless they are given the information they seek about the Walpin affair.
A third step would be to push for greater emphasis on inspectors general at the Corporation. Recently, President Obama signed a $5.7 billion measure that will triple the size of the domestic volunteer agency. Republicans can argue that if you are going to triple the money for an agency, you should also increase the money for the agency's inspector general, to ensure that taxpayer money will be well spent. Increased attention to inspectors general means increased attention to the Walpin affair.
A fourth step concerns Alan Solomont, the Democratic fundraiser appointed by President Obama to chair the Corporation board. It just happens that Solomont has also been nominated to be the next U.S. ambassador to Spain. Republicans could threaten to hold up his nomination until they get the information they seek.
A fifth and final step involves Lawrence Brown, the previously-mentioned acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento. If the president chooses to nominate Brown to be the permanent U.S. attorney, then Brown will have to be confirmed by the Senate. Republicans could put a hold on that nomination, too.
With their majority, Senate Democrats could work around any hold or other measure that has only the support of Republicans. But it could be a slow and frustrating process, especially at a time when Democrats are working to pass the president's hyper-ambitious domestic agenda. That's what could give the GOP leverage.
As the Walpin revelations continue, it appears some Republicans are ready to act. This week, Sen. Charles Grassley, a longtime champion of inspectors general, expressed frustration with his inability to get much information out of the Justice Department. (Grassley has sent many requests to the department, one of them for more information about the AmeriCorps affair.)
"I've learned that holding up nominees for an executive branch agency is an effective tool to get answers," Grassley said. "So, until we start getting answers to these outstanding requests, I'm noticing my intention to hold certain Justice Department nominees."
In the past, you've probably heard about secret holds in the Senate, in which a single senator hides behind the rules to block a nomination while remaining anonymous. Grassley wouldn't do that. Fastidious about keeping the public informed on what he's doing, if Grassley tries to stop a nominee, he'll do it out in the open, by name, and he'll tell the White House exactly why he's doing it. And he'll keep doing it until he gets what he wants.
It's possible that these measures won't be necessary, that the White House will act in accordance with the president's promise to conduct its business in a spirit of transparency and openness. But just in case that doesn't happen, Republicans are studying their options.