Archive for ‘AmeriCorps’

August 1, 2009

Dodd-Gate and IG-Gate: The Connection

OK, Byron York ate my lunch on IG-Gate Friday, so I was calling Hill sources trying to scare up a break. Called one source to ask him about the Justice Department angle York was looking at.

“Have you seen York’s column?”
“Sorry, but it’s been all Countrywide all day up here.”
“Ah, our old friend Senator Dodd!”
“Yeah, it’s been crazy.”

Michelle Malkin devotes her latest column to Chris Dodd and the Countrywide VIP scandal, and she joins Instapundit in linking to an AP story about House Democrats refusing to investigate:

Rep. Edolphus Towns, D-N.Y., chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said he has other work to do on the causes of and fixes for the financial crisis and will not interfere with other investigations of the VIP loans.

And here we see how the Dodd-bone is connected to the IG-bone, as it were. For weeks, Republican sources on the IG-Gate story have been suggesting that Democrats on the Hill are less interested in finding the truth than in playing P.R. games. The American Spectator July 14:

Investigations of the inspector general firings are “moving forward in a bipartisan fashion,” I was told . . . in separate face-to-face meetings with both Democrat and Republican staffers on Capitol Hill. The Democrat said it with apparent sincerity, while the Republican’s repeated the same words with transparent irony.
Exactly how “bipartisan” are these investigations? Republicans remain skeptical of Democratic sincerity. Some telephone interviews with key witnesses have been scheduled as bipartisan conference calls. Sometimes Democratic investigators are on the call; other times, they’re no-shows.

The same theme was repeated in my July 21 report at the Hot Air Green Room:

Behind closed doors on Capitol Hill last week, I asked a Republican source about the investigative efforts of Democratic staffers for the House Oversight Committee.
“Honestly?” the source said. “They’re useless.”
More than three weeks have passed since Oversight Committee Chairman Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.) joined the committee’s ranking Republican, California Rep. Darrell Issa, to launch an investigation into the case of former Amtrak inspector general Fred Wiederhold Jr. . . .
Despite the “grave concerns” expressed by Towns and Issa three weeks ago, however, Republican sources on Capitol Hill have complained that Democratic staffers on the Oversight Committee have not shown much zeal for the investigation.

This is all very delicate business. Democratic chairmen control every committee in Congress now, and nothing is going to happen in terms of hearings and subpoenas until the Democrats say so. Therefore, the Republican minority, both staffers and members, don’t want to alienate the majority by making direct, public accusations of mala fides.

A couple of weeks ago one GOP staffer breached that protocol in an interview with The Hill about the Bank of America/Merrill Lynch merger investigation:

“You would think that the majority would be just as vested as we are at exposing who knew what and when,” said Kurt Bardella, spokesman for committee Republicans. “What exactly is the majority afraid we’ll find?”

Obviously, the spokesman wouldn’t have fired that kind of hard shot without authorization from Issa, which gives you an idea of how intensely frustrated Republicans on the Hill are about this clear pattern of non-cooperation. So now let’s go back to Larry Margasak’s AP story about Dodd and Countrywide:

The senior Republican on Towns’ committee, California Rep. Darrell Issa, has been trying for months to get Towns to subpoena Bank of America for Countrywide’s records. He said in an interview with The Associated Press that he asked Towns again this week to issue the subpoena. . . .
Daniel Frahm, a Bank of America spokesman, said the bank is ready to turn over the Countrywide VIP documents if it receives a subpoena. The bank’s lawyer sent Issa the same message in a June letter.
“They have it packed and ready to go,” Issa said in the interview.

Early into my reporting on IG-Gate, a source told me that it’s important to ask the right questions. OK, so back to the Walpin investigation. As I reported last week, Republican investigators on the AmeriCorps firing are curious about what role pressure from Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) played in the events that led to the firing of IG Gerald Walpin.

California blogger Eric Hogue brought attention to a March interview in which Matsui vowed that the St. HOPE Academy scandal involving Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson wouldn’t prevent Sacramento from getting its share of “stimulus” money. Gerald Walpin told me Tuesday that he’s curious about the Matsui connection, too. (So far, I’ve been unable to get a response from Matsui’s people.)

The questions now being asked on Capitol Hill have taken an interesting turn, as Byron York’s column in the Examiner makes clear:

Within days of Matsui’s [March] statement, a settlement was reached. Johnson was unsuspended, and in a particularly unusual move, acting U.S. Attorney [Lawrence] 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.

Ah, so here we are back to Issa again, you see? Issa says Brown is not cooperating on the AmeriCorps probe. Issa also says that the committee chairman, Towns, is not cooperating on the Countrywide probe.

So there’s a whole lot of non-cooperation going on — not all of it involving Issa or these two particular investigations — and the question that intrigues me is whether all this non-cooperation is merely a coincidence. We must resist the urge to slide into connect-the-dots DKos “question-the-timing” mode. But if there’s no evidence that there is a cover-up or a conspiracy at work here, it’s sure as heck starting to look like a pattern.

Lots of questions, as York says, and you should definitely read his entire column. As Dan Riehl said today, York is “is doing some terrific work for The Examiner. Best hire they’ve made since I’ve been looking in.” And I agree completely. The healthy competition on this story — Jake Tapper of ABC and Ed O’Keefe of The Washington Post have also done excellent reporting on IG-Gate — is something that folks on the Hill very much want to encourage. The more media, the merrier, as far as they’re concerned.

Of course, I would be remiss if I didn’t give full credit to Michelle Malkin, whose June 17 column on the Walpin case got me paying attention to the IG-Gate “dominoes.” And she is, after all, the author of the Best. Book. Evah!

When you’re working a competitive story like this and another guy eats your lunch, you can’t pretend you just accidentally misplaced your brown bag. So I hope you enjoyed that sandwich, Byron.

However, I don’t aim to be missing too many meals in the future. I’ve recently finished a 3,000-word article about IG-Gate for the September print edition of The American Spectator (subscribe now), and I just outlined to Mrs. Other McCain my plan for The Mother Of All Shoe-Leather Trips to D.C., so I can work the Hill for several days in a row.

Readers, please hit the tip jar, and be sure to see all the updated links at Bob Belvedere’s IG-GATE BLOG.

July 31, 2009

IG-Gate: York Scores a Scoop

Following up on my scoop about Matsui, the Examiner‘s man pushes the story forward:

Now, investigators are trying a new route, examining the role of the Justice Department. Sen. Jeff Sessions, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, has asked the committee chairman, Democratic Sen. Patrick Leahy, for a hearing on the AmeriCorps/Walpin affair, focusing specifically on the role of Brown and his bosses at Justice.
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.” . . .

Read the whole thing. “According to a senior Republican aide,” eh? Got to make a call to D.C.

July 28, 2009

IG-Gate Update:Walpin wonders about Matsui’s role

Guess who reads The American Spectator?

In a telephone interview today, Walpin said he noticed last week’s report that Rep. Doris Matsui (D-Calif.) had contacted White House officials in March, publicly vowing that sanctions against Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson didn’t prevent the city from getting its share of bailout cash.
Questions about what role Matsui may have played in Walpin’s dismissal are being asked on Capitol Hill, and the ex-IG himself is curious about the Sacramento congresswoman’s intervention, which drew attention after it was highlighted by California blogger Eric Hogue.
On the larger question — whether political pressure over his investigation of Mayor Johnson’s St. HOPE Academy was a factor in the June 10 quit-or-be-fired ultimatum from the White House — Walpin is certain.
“I have no doubt about that,” Walpin said. . . .

Read the whole thing, and expect updates.

UPDATE 5 p.m.: Eric Hogue’s all over the involvement of Matsui in IG Gate, with audio and lots, lots more.

July 23, 2009

MATSUI-GATE? California Democrat’sIntervention in AmeriCorps CaseRaises Questions on Capitol Hill

HUGE hat-tip to California blogger Eric Hogue for spotting a March interview with a Sacramento radio station in which Rep. Doris Matsui — the Democrat who represents California’s capitol city in Congress — vowed to get stimulus cash By Any Means Necessary:

Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson has asked U.S. Rep. Doris Matsui to help keep the flow of federal funds coming into the city.Johnson is not allowed to receive federal funds because of allegations his St. Hope-Hood Corps Foundation misused federal money.
Matsui, D-District 5, who appeared on the KCRA 3 Morning News on Saturday morning, said she believes Sacramento will get money, but she can’t guarantee it.”
Under any scenario, we are going to get the money. We are going to get the money,” she said. “I understand that process has to unfold. The mayor is dealing with that. We are dealing with the situation at the federal level. The city is taking the right steps. They have to disclose this, and we are moving forward.”
Matsui added that she has been in contact with White House officials and other members of the federal government.

More IG-Gate news where that came from. Trust me when I say that Hogue’s blog post made a big difference. Important people are paying attention and, to borrow the words of Ricky Ricardo — that hero of investigative journalists everywhere — I expect that Ms. Matsui has got some ‘splainin’ to do.

UPDATE 1:35 p.m.: Sigh. If a blogger breaks news and nobody links it, is it really news?

Tuesday night at Townhall.com, Eric Hogue asked, “Where is the media?” I’ve got a better question than that: “Where are Republicans?”

For months, I’ve complained about the cluelessness of Republican media operatives, and this is a perfect example of what I’m talking about. For some reason (and I say it’s because almost nobody in the GOP has ever worked in an actual newsroom) these people seem incapable of judging “news value.”

There is an observable tendency among GOP media operatives toward a talking-points approach to news: “I’ll push the stories that the RNC, etc., want me to push.” And then there is the star-system approach to news: “If it’s on Drudge or Limbaugh or Fox News, then it must be important — and to hell with everything else.” But why bother repeating what I’ve already said so often before? Nobody’s paying attention.

So here is Eric Hogue, pointing to definite indications of political influence in the firing of Gerald Walpin, and . . . nothing. That IG-Gate Update has been online at the American Spectator since 10:34 a.m., and except for Bob Belvedere, nobody is in the conservative blogosphere has even noticed.

Next time I run into some overpaid “Web 2.0” guru who tries to lecture me about why the GOP sucks at New Media, I’ll turn around and walk away. This is the only alternative to punching his fucking lights out.

July 22, 2009

Rule 3 on IG-Gate (Plus, Notes forNewbies on Aggregation Method)

There’s a Memeorandum thread this morning linking the Hot Air IG-Gate Update, which got Instalanched. and is also linked by Frugal Cafe. Note that the Memeorandum thread also includes Joe Weber’s Washington Times interview with fired AmeriCorps IG Gerald Walpin:

“For a second I was thinking, ‘Why do I need all of this?’ I’ll just resign and go back to my good legal practice in New York,” Gerald Walpin told The Washington Times’ “America’s Morning News” radio show Tuesday.
“But I would then be part of the apparatus that is totally torpedoing the inspectors general,” Mr. Walpin said. “The watchdog would not really be a watchdog. He’d just be afraid of his shadow.” . . .

That’s new stuff, see? It was linked together with the IG-Gate Update in a post at Right Wing News. If several different blogs aggregate that stuff together, it creates sort of a center of gravity in the ‘sphere that is picked up by the Memeorandum algorithm.

And the Right Wing News post also includes today’s Washington Post story about Neil Barofsky — SIGTARP, special inspector general for the TARP bailout — who raised hell on Capitol Hill yesterday. As of 7 a.m., that story was not included in the Memeorandum thread, but given that Sen. Chuck Grassley has been defending Barofsky’s office against Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner, (see Grassley’s June 17 letter to Geithner in PDF) it’s very much part of the same story.

Building up a Memeorandum thread, with everybody commenting on the same news stories and cross-linking, is what Rule 3 is about. Newbies should always hat-tip Memeorandum when they do this. Even if the increase in your traffic is not immediately significant, every time somebody links your blog, it boosts your Technorati ranking — you did remember to install Technorati, right? — and, eventually, you’ll be showing up on Memeorandum’s radar.

Think of it this way: When one dog in the neighborhood starts barking, they all start barking. That’s why Jimmie Bise dubbed us The Million Hit Squad.

If you need more background on the IG-Gate story, try the Mother of All Updates.

UPDATE: Yet more juicy SIGTARP goodness:

Barofsky testified that taxpayers aren’t being told what most TARP recipients are doing with their money or what their investments are worth and may never be told exactly how their taxpayer dollars are being used.
At a Government Oversight and Reform Committee hearing, one lawmaker compared Treasury to convicted Ponzi scheme artist Bernie Madoff, accused Treasury of trying to undermine Barofsky’s independence and threatened to haul Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner before the panel if he didn’t adopt the IG’s recommendations.
“For us to get past this economic situation that we find ourselves in, the public has to believe that we’re doing the right thing,” said Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.). “If we can’t show them that we are doing the right thing with their money, we’re going to have problems.” (Emphasis added.)

When Democrats start talking like that, you know it spells trouble for Geithner.

UPDATE II: Text of closing statement by Chairman Towns:

Earnings at the largest banks and the bank holding companies such as JP Morgan and Goldman Sachs are up, yet lending remains down. It is unacceptable that profits go up, while lending goes down. The taxpayers have invested very large amounts of money in these banks, but what have we gotten in return? It remains unclear.
The taxpayers deserve to know how their tax dollars are being spent.
The Treasury Department needs to publish full and detailed information on the use of TARP funds and publish the value of the TARP portfolio on a monthly basis. They have that information and they should make it public.
Moreover, Treasury also requires the largest banks to file monthly reports showing the dollar value of their new lending. That should be made public also.
If Treasury doesn’t put this information up on its website, this Committee will. And if Treasury doesn’t turn over this information voluntarily, Secretary Geithner will be brought before the Committee to explain.
What we have heard today convinces me that one of the best things Congress did when it created the TARP was to also create the Special Inspector General to oversee TARP spending. I can now understand why the Treasury Department would like to rein in the SIGTARP. But we are not going to let that happen.

Heh.

UPDATE III: Just got off the phone with a source on Capitol Hill who tells me yesterday’s Hot Air IG-Gate Update is a big hit with Republicans. Speaking of Republicans, here’s Rep. Darrell Issa:

The Special Inspector General of the Troubled Asset Relief Program (SIGTARP) Neil Barofsky testified today at a hearing of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform that the Treasury Department has “repeatedly failed” to implement SIGTARP recommendations that would reveal how Treasury is using taxpayer dollars. At the conclusion of the hearing, Ranking Member Darrell Issa (R-CA) asked Chairman Towns to bring Treasury Secretary Timothy Geithner before the Committee to address the questions raised by SIGTARP’s report. . . .
“We heard today that full transparency, which we called for, the President asked for and this Administration promised, is being blocked by the bureaucracy which often says ‘just trust and we will deliver,’” Issa said. “Until we have full transparency, we will never be able to know how much risk Treasury is assuming on behalf of the taxpayers. This Administration promised an ‘unprecedented’ level of accountability and transparency. They set their own standard. Now we’re going to hold them to it.”

Click here for Issa’s statement.
Click here for Neil Barofsky’s testimony.
Click here for a copy of the SIGTARP Report.

July 18, 2009

While I was off the grid yesterday . . .

. . . AmeriCorp IG Gerald Walpin filed a federal lawsuit demanding to be reinstated (hat-tip to Ed Morrissey, who doesn’t give me any credit or linky-love).

My trip to Capitol Hill yesterday was extraordinarily fruitful. People who don’t want to deal with reporters can dodge an e-mail or a phone call, but they get their salaries from the American taxpayer. They claim to be “public servants,” so they don’t have much choice in the matter when a citizen-journalist walks in the front door and says, “Serve me.”

Yesterday, because of screwed-up D.C. traffic — the Beltway was a parking lot and the side streets were gridlocked by freaking tourists who don’t know how to drive — I missed my 1 p.m. appointment with an important source. Even as I pulled into the parking garage at my destination, the source called me at 1:20 to explain that it was too late to wait any longer.

Grrrrrr. OK, fine, I had lunch with a friend of mine who just happened to be in town. And then I headed out to Capitol Hill.

Rejection and Revenge
My first visit was to an office where Smith at the desk smiled when he saw me walk in the door. He went into the next room to announce my arrival and, without saying a word, I walked right in behind him. I saw the initial look of horror on the source’s face when Smith said I was back, but then the source saw me behind Smith and smiled: “Oh, hi, Stacy!”

Nothing beats shoe leather. What I wanted from this source was to confirm the name and office location of the guy who hadn’t responded to my e-mail the day before. (Hint to public servants: When I send you an e-mail saying “call me at [my personal cell phone number] at your earliest opportunity,” you should RSVP ASAP.)

So I got the information and added a little extra hassle for good measure. This particular source is also a friend. If your friendly sources object to journalistic harassment, what kind of friends are they?

Understand that I was completely stressed out at this point. If these public servants would return my phone calls and e-mails, I wouldn’t have to drive 150 miles round-trip and walk all over Capitol Hill like this. After three hours of sleep and four cups of coffee, I’d driven like a maniac through Northwest D.C. — River Road to Wisconsin Avenue to Porter Street to Rock Creek Parkway and then into tourist-infested gridlock hell — only to find myself pleading on the phone to my source: “Please, I’m almost there, I’ll be there in two minutes, if this g–d—-d busload of f—ing tourists would just get out of my f—ing way.”

And being told “no.” Like a salesman doing cold calls or a teenage boy asking for a date, a reporter must learn to cope with rejection. But it hurts every time.

Like I’m Chopped Liver
When I was a pimply teenage boy and got rejected, I’d find myself thinking, “Would she say this to Andy Gibb?” (Back in the day, his poster adorned the wall of every college girl’s dorm-room.) Arrogant? Maybe. But I didn’t care how famous Andy Gibb was. He ain’t got nothing on me.

OK, so now I’m an award-winning journalist, a published author and the founder of the online posse whom Jimmie Bise dubbed “The Million-Hit Squad.” Just because I’m not famous doesn’t make me chopped liver. So when a potential source blows me off, my reaction is, “Would she do this to George Stephanopoulos?” (Who also ain’t got nothing on me.)

Trust me, I understand people are busy. My inbox is overflowing, I seldom have a chance to check my voicemail, my desk is a mess, and if it weren’t for abundant assistance from Smitty and my sexy wife — both of them answers to prayer, whom I seldom thank as often as I should — I’d be even more of a hopeless mess than I already am.

So if I miss your phone call or don’t reply to your e-mail, please don’t take it personally. Maybe I didn’t see your e-mail, and maybe (as is the case at this very moment) my cell phone is dead and I left the charger in the car that my wife is driving today.

Given my notorious disorganization and many other shortcomings, I try to be forgiving, to have empathy like Sonia Sotomayor, and to remember that other people have their own problems. Still, on the other hand . . .

Who’s zooming who? The salaries of congressional staffers are a matter of public record. You’re getting paid good money to deal with the media, and you can’t play favorites, as if The American Spectator was less deserving of your attention than Politico or The Hill. You’re making a heckuva lot more than I am, sweetheart, and the taxpayer is footing the bill, see?

Furthermore, I’m working longer hours than you are. The taxpayers don’t give me a computer loaded with whatever software I want, and I don’t have a free T1 connection. Nor do the taxpayers give me a Blackberry and a parking pass. I’ve got no interns or assistants to boss around. Therefore, when I’m hustling for every dime, burning the midnight oil and dodging bill collectors, my empathy for a 26-year-old public servant . . . well. it is not infinite.

But I digress. I’ll finish this saga of Friday on the Hill, but Byron York’s got an Instalanche and Powerline is also non-linking me, and so I guess I need to get this post online now before I’m the last blogger on the Memeorandum thread.

To quote the eminent political philosopher Rodney Dangerfield, it ain’t easy bein’ me. Please hit the tip jar.

Who’s The Man?
At 4 p.m., I walked into the office of the man I was looking for. I made a joke to the guy at the front desk as he went to fetch my source. A minute later, I was sitting on a leather sofa in a large office behind closed doors.

Explanation. Conversation. Interrogation. Quote of the Day. I repeated the word to my source, just to make sure I could use it. When your source is talking off the record, you put the pen down, let him talk — just two guys talking. If he says something you want to use, then you ask if you can use it as “background” (anonymously) and, if necessary, negotiate what can and cannot be used.

But you never burn a source. If you start hot-dogging, divulging stuff that your source doesn’t want to be published, just so you can claim to have it first, you’ll get a bad reputation and people won’t help you.

The source had something in another room I wanted to see, so he went to get it and I talked to the guy at the front desk again. “Hey, your guy there — he’s The Man.” Which led to a bit of joking (“No, you’re The Man!”) and off I went, across Capitol Hill, looking to find the source I’d missed at lunch.

Well, as I often remind readers, there are no accidents. All those tourist S.O.B.s I’d cussed into the fiery pit of hell while desperately trying to make it to lunch? “Angels unaware.” Being 20 minutes late for that appointment set up an amazing sequence of events that Lynn Vincent would call “providential,” but which Michelle Malkin once called “coinky-dinks.” (Coded message to Michelle: Ixnay on that ordway.)

The Man is in charge. Never doubt it.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! I’d meant to finish this account of my Friday on Capitol Hill. However, today the citizen-journalist must take his sons — Jefferson, 10, and Emerson, 8 — to a Monster Truck Jam at Hagerstown Speedway.

So you’ll be left wondering who was behind that umarked door I opened by mistake Friday afternoon. However, I beg you to pay attention to this:

Any Senator, officer, or employee of the Senate who shall disclose the secret or confidential business or proceedings of the Senate, including the business and proceedings of the committees, subcommittees, and offices of the Senate, shall be liable, if a Senator, to suffer expulsion from the body; and if an officer or employee, to dismissal from the service of the Senate, and to punishment for contempt.

For the record, the only thing the deputy press secretary could tell me was that she plays catcher on Joe Lieberman’s staff softball team. But that was another door.

Please hit the tip jar. I’m wearing out a lot of shoe leather doing it this way, and my boys will want some sno-cones at the Monster Truck Jam.

July 15, 2009

IG-Gate: Whispers of hints of shadows

Ever been in one of those situations where you don’t know exactly what’s going on, but somebody’s hinting that something’s going on?

Read every word of this.

The subject was raised in an indirect sort of way. I just jotted down some notes and didn’t think too much about it. But my drive home from D.C. is more than an hour long, and as I mentally rehearsed what I’d seen and heard . . . Well, what was that about?

Maybe it was nothing. But maybe it was something. I’m trying to stay calm. Don’t try to predict the future.

Shoe leather is an amazing journalistic resource. This is the kind of reporting that gets the blood pumping. Because of unexpected complications in my itinerary, I didn’t park my car at Union Station until 4:09 p.m., but after I got through on the Hill, I was whistling a happy tune while I walked back down First Avenue, re-entering the marble lobby of the station at 6:37 p.m., as my meticulous notes show.

From the start: Tourists were still standing in line for a chance to get into the Sotomayor hearings, and I’d left my cell phone in the car. “Deep Cleavage” hadn’t returned my calls, and nobody was expecting my arrival on the Hill. It was pleasantly sunny but not hot, and the biggest hassle I had was having to empty my pockets and remove my belt — the buckle sets off the metal detectors — to enter the different congressional office buildings.

“The Other McCain,” said the receptionist, becoming accustomed to my unannounced arrivals. X is on vacation. Hmmm. What about X’s Deputy, Y? Not in. Well, how about Z?

I’m sitting on the sofa and, on the lobby TV, Lindsay Graham is applying a flamethrower to Sotomayor, trying to produce that “meltdown” he’d previously suggested was so unlikely. Get ’em, Goober! I’m almost willing to take back some of those homophobic slurs . . .

Good news! The receptionist says that Z will be there momentarily. Z is “Deep Cleavage.” We had never previously met but are already becoming . . . eh, bosom buddies. Z arrives and, as we make our way down the elevator to the basement cafeteria, this unexpected subject arises.

It must have been important, otherwise I wouldn’t have a full page of notes about it. But it wasn’t what I came to ask about. Deep Cleavage raises the subject and discusses it at some length before I even get a chance to start asking questions.

At the time, however, it didn’t register. We were both in somewhat of a hurry. I had other people to see, and Deep Cleavage had a 5 o’clock conference call. It seemed like we talked for 45 minutes but since I didn’t even go through the metal detectors until 4:25 p.m. — meticulous notes, you see — it couldn’t have been that long.

Au revoir, Deep Cleavage, and off I go. Another office, another TV screen with Sotomayor hearings. The person I came to see is not in, but the deputy is available. OK. Actually, much better than OK. Introduction to a staffer who is eager (!) to help. All the charm I can muster is employed in a quick chat in the hallway and I take my leave with a courtly bow. This could become a very important source.

Quickly cutting across the Capitol grounds toward Independence Avenue. The woman walking across from the other side of the avenue is talking on a cell phone, but looks up. “Excuse me, ma’am, but which one is [name of office building]?” She points to the building.

When I get there, neither the communication director nor the press secretary is in the office. The receptionist — actually, “staff assistant” is her title — isn’t exactly eager to help. It’s past 5:30 now, she’s running out the clock, and she doesn’t know me from Adam’s housecat.

Ah, but there is more than one way to skin Adam’s housecat and, with the help of directions from an older gentleman, I’m on my way through an underground tunnel to another office building.

In the tunnel, I encounter a cluster of young aides. Obviously, Republicans. The girls are too pretty to be Democrats. Turns out they’re Georgians and blonde Shannon, who just finished her junior year at UGA, went to Lassiter High. Ah, once dated a girl from Lassiter, and another one at Sprayberry, but that redhead from North Cobb — her backyard was the 10th tee at the country club and . . .

The Georgians think I’m joking (I’m not) and they razz me when I start humming the University of Alabama fight song. This is fine amusement as we’re walking through the tunnel.

Reaching my destination, I connect with my source of last resort. We’re talking in the office vestibule when the Congressman, his wife and children pass through. My source doesn’t want to trouble the boss, but I know the magic.

“Congressman!” And immediately I’m shaking hands and schmoozing it up, making sure to praise the excellent services peformed by the congressman’s staffer, my source.

The congressman and family exit and, as soon as the door closes behind them, I high-five my source. That, my friend, is how it’s done: Impose yourself. They’re public servants, right? Well, I’m the freaking public.

Explain to the source who it is that I need to get direct contact with. We briefly discuss — of all people — Conor Friedersdorf, whose satire of my methods was both funny and accurate. If only I’d remembered to bring my pink camera . . .

Assured that I’ll be contacted by the person I need to talk to, I’m ready for the return trip. I ride down the elevator with a recently-elected Democratic member of Congress. I cut back across the Capitol grounds and a few minutes later, as I cross the intersection of First and C, I’m jazz-whistling “Georgia On My Mind.” The policeman on the corner says, “That’s something you don’t see anymore — people whistling while they walk.”

No, you sure don’t, I answer. What I don’t say is that you also don’t see reporters take their leave with a courtly bow. A sense of history — an evocative name — now occupies my mind, and I find myself switching the tune to “Shenandoah” as I cross past the Columbus monument toward Union Station. In a few days, there will be a major deadline, but this is far from my thoughts.

I’m going to beat you today — and didn’t I?

A 150-mile round-trip drive, 2 hours and 28 minutes on the Hill, and I’ve got notes for my next article, as well as a quick blog post at AmSpec, plus promises of connections to more sources in coming days. No sir, you can’t beat shoe leather, and it’s good for the soul.

Quick shout-out to Obi’s Sister, Dan Collins, The Rhetorican and WWU-AM/Camp of the Saints, and this from Jimmie Bise:

So, keep the faith, folks. We may well get that accountability and transparency Barack Obama promised us yet, no matter how hard he fights to break that promise.

Ah, Jimmie, my boy! When will you be back in DC? Check your schedule for Friday. What tales I have to tell, and what new friends you must meet. Y’all be sure and hit the tip jar — another courtly bow, and good-night!

July 14, 2009

IG-Gate: Chugging Along

My last full-blown article about IG-Gate for The American Spectator was published June 25. Since then, I’ve updated the story several times at AmSpecBlog, NTCNews, and the Hot Air Green Room. So last week, when I suggested another article — “The Little Scandal That Could,” published today — I didn’t really think about how much news had occurred in the past three weeks, as for instance in the case of Amtrak IG Fred Wiederhold:

On June 18, Amtrak IG Fred Wiederhold submitted a 94-page report, prepared at his request by an outside law firm, showing that the federally subsidized passenger rail service had, as Grassley said, “systematically violated the letter and spirit of the Inspector General Act.” Immediately after the Amtrak board meeting where he presented that report, Wiederhold submitted notice that he would retire.
Those familiar with the congressional investigation say Wiederhold has denied being forced out at Amtrak — personal considerations were also involved in his decision — but the report he submitted June 18 details a pattern of obstruction by Amtrak’s law department.
This department is the bailiwick of Amtrak vice president and general counsel Eleanor “Eldie” Acheson, who just happens to be a longtime friend (and Wellesley College roommate) of Hillary Rodham Clinton. Acheson’s deputy general counsel, Jonathan Meyer, joined Amtrak after spending six years as a top Senate aide to Joe Biden, who has long proclaimed himself as Amtrak’s No. 1 advocate in Washington and who personally announced the $1.3 billion in “stimulus” funds for Amtrak.
Led by the well-connected Acheson and Meyer, Amtrak’s law department tried to require the IG’s office to get prior approval before communicating with Congress and instituted a policy where documents subpoenaed by the IG’s office were first reviewed and occasionally redacted by Amtrak management.
None of this squares with the law and Grassley, the congressional patron saint of inspectors general, wrote in a letter to Amtrak chairman Thomas Carper that, in the wake of Wiederhold’s retirement, IG staffers were “fearful of retaliation” if they spoke to congressional investigators. The seriousness of these charges prompted Rep. Edolphus Towns (D-N.Y.), chairman of the House Oversight Committee, to join with the committee’s ranking Republican, California Rep. Darrell Issa, in announcing an official investigation, parallel to the probe led by Grassley’s team in the Senate. . . .

You can (and certainly should) read the whole thing, but just consider all that has been reported about the Amtrak case in the past three weeks. (USA Today is just now catching up to this scandal train.) Grassley’s office published the 94-page report, detailing the pattern of obstruction by Acheson’s department, disclosed the “retaliation” fears of IG staffers, the Towns-Issa inquiry was announced — and that’s just the stuff I can actually report about one of the IG cases.

There are various interesting off-the-record tips that I’m still trying to confirm, and there are more developments expected in coming days that I can’t report yet. (Rule One: Never burn your sources.) Meanwhile, the Walpin case keeps simmering, with the stonewalling by AmeriCorps officials and other interesting developments.

There is lots of news here. If it weren’t for Michelle Malkin, The Washington Examiner‘s Byron York, The Washington Post‘s Ed O’Keefedig this document dump!Youth Today‘s Nancy Lewis and the Sacramento Bee, I couldn’t keep up myself.

The source I call “Deep Cleavage”* didn’t return phone calls yesterday. and there are a couple of big tips I need to follow up on, so I’m headed to Capitol Hill again today. Since I’m not one of those $100K-a-year bloggers (I’m starting to think they’re a myth, like unicorns and sober Kennedys) please hit the tip jar to help fund this latest shoe-leather trip.

*NOTE: “Deep Cleavage” is a mnemonic device, not a description. It’s also the kind of lame pun (“Big tips” = “Deep Cleavage”) that appeals to my inner eight-grader. Whether or not this involves a “D” . . . hey, never burn your sources. But these tips are real and they’re spectacular.

UPDATE: OK, I’m running behind schedule this morning, but the Spectator story is already linked at Instapundit, Michelle Malkin, Red State, Sister Toldjah, Around the Sphere, Urbin Report, And So It Goes In Shreveport, and Memeorandum. Please pay attention to this very intelligent comment from Moe Lane:

So, we’ll see.

For less intelligent people, I recommend a certain tasty beverage known as STFU.

UPDATE 11:20 p.m.: Oh, boy. Chris Dodd? Just a hint from the Hill, but . . . oh, boy.

July 9, 2009

AmeriCorps stonewalls IG-Gate congressional investigation

Byron York:

A top official of the Corporation for National and Community Service, the government agency that oversees AmeriCorps, has refused to answer questions from congressional investigators about the White House’s role in events surrounding the abrupt firing of inspector general Gerald Walpin.
Frank Trinity, general counsel for the Corporation, met with a bipartisan group of congressional investigators on Monday. When the investigators asked Trinity for details of the role the White House played in the firing, Trinity refused to answer, according to two aides with knowledge of the situation. “He said that’s a prerogative of the White House, so he didn’t feel at liberty to disclose anything regarding White House communications,” says one aide.

Read the rest. There will be more news on this.

UPDATE: Kelley Beaucar Vlahos of Fox News:

“The mounting evidence that there might be political interference with the IGs is disturbing,” said Pete Sepp, vice president for policy and communications at the National Taxpayers Union. “The IGs are being emasculated.”
“When inspectors general across the administration have roadblocks placed in their way, American taxpayers should worry. A threat to one’s independence is a threat to them all,” said Rep. Jeb Hensarling, R-Texas. . . .
Jake Wiens, an investigator for the Project on Government Oversight, a non-profit watchdog group in Washington, D.C., warned against seeing “patterns” in the dismissals. Taken individually, each IG’s firing is a distinct case that could be “extremely problematic.”
For example, Weins said, the Walpin case is mired in a number of “complicating issues,” like documented complaints against Walpin from within the agency and a pending ethics complaint against him by the U.S. Attorney’s Office in California.
Walpin is also the only IG in question to be fired by the White House. In the case of Weiderhold, the Amtrak IG answers to the Amtrak board of directors, currently chaired by Sen. Thomas Carper, D-Del. . . .

Wiens makes a good point that IG-Gate involves three distinct cases of IG’s who have quit or been terminated — AmeriCorps, Amtrak and the International Trade Commission — and also the case of “SIGTARP,” Neil Barofsky, inspector general for the TARP bailout, who has complained that the Treasury Department has not been fully cooperative. Each of these cases involves different facts.

UPDATE 12:05 p.m.: Did some reporting of my own for the American Spectator:

Democratic congressional staffers investigating the firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin asked tough questions of an agency lawyer who refused to discuss White House involvement in the case, a source familiar with the investigation tells the Spectator. . . .
So far, the source said, interviews with “key board members” at CNCS contradict White House special counsel Norman Eisen’s assertion that the June 10 firing followed an “extensive review” at the request of the CNCS board. Board members have told congressional investigators that “they weren’t contacted [by the White House] until after the decision was made,” the source said. . . .

Read the whole thing. Last week, Michelle Malkin called me an “investigative journalist,” which is a term that I’ve always found troublesome. It’s not really anything special. An investigative journalist is just a reporter with sources. And developing sources, like everything else in journalism, is a skill (something you learn) rather than a talent (something you’re born with).

At last night’s book-signing party, I was discussing this with someone and said that the difference between a pundit and a reporter can be summarized in four words: “Pick up the phone!”

Anyone can Google up the phone numbers of a congressman, make a call and ask to speak to his press secretary, and try to get a statement. What kills me is when I see someone like Ross Douthat — with the resources and prestige of the New York Times at his disposal — who refuses to use that awesome power to its full extent. “Pick up the phone!”

It’s just inertia, really. Sitting in front of your computer and pontificating about the passing scene can too easily become a habit. If you never get up off your butt, make some phone calls and do some reporting, you stop thinking like a journalist. Before you know it, you’re just another damned useless intellectual.

July 8, 2009

IG-Gate Update

Fox News obtains notes from a meeting that led to the firing of AmeriCorps Inspector General Gerald Walpin:

The informal meeting notes, taken by CNCS Counsel Frank Trinity, said that board members were indeed concerned about Walpin’s “behavior.” . . .
But the account also shows that Chairman Alan Solomont stated concern about Walpin’s accusations against the board and not his mental health as the apparent cause for the dispute that led to Walpin’s termination. . . .
A congressional investigator who participated in a three-hour meeting with Trinity on Monday told FOXNews.com that it was clear the board sought Walpin’s ouster because of hurt feelings and professional friction, even though inspectors general are supposed to be free to challenge staff at their respective agencies. The investigator, who requested anonymity, argued the White House did not thoroughly review the matter.
“It was the disagreements between the IG and the senior management at the agency that provoked the board to remove Walpin,” the investigator said. “The senior people at the agency chafed under Walpin’s oversight. … They communicated this to the board, which rubber-stamped senior management. [The board] took it to the White House, which rubber-stamped the board.”

Hmmm. Is Fox’s source also my source? Then why . . . Never mind. As long as it advances the story, I’m not particularly concerned with who gets what. Meanwhile, Democrats in Congress are working to muzzle federal watchdogs in the financial sector:

Inspectors general at five financial regulatory agencies are objecting to legislation that would elevate their positions to the presidential-appointment level, arguing that the move would compromise their ability to conduct independent investigations.
The bill would elevate the five officials at the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, the Commodity Futures Trading Commission, the National Credit Union Administration, the Securities and Exchange Commission, and the Pension Benefit Guaranty Corp.

Lots of graft opportunities in those agencies, y’see. Don’t need independent watchdogs snooping around while the Chicago Way is put into operation on Wall Street. And here’s some news on the “SIGTARP” story I overlooked last week:

Congress did not legislate transparency for its own members’ manipulation of the bailout fund, known as the Troubled Assets Relief Program, or TARP. . . .
[T]he Treasury Department steered $135 million in TARP money to a bank in Hawaii after Sen. Daniel K. Inouye’s staff contacted bank regulators on its behalf. Mr. Inouye, a Democrat, is Hawaii’s senior senator. Nothing unusual so far: Members of Congress have been lobbying for home-state banks almost since TARP started — so much so that congressional influence is the subject of a TARP inspector general report due out this summer. In one prominent case, Rep. Maxine Waters (D-Calif.) arranged a meeting between regulators and OneUnited of Massachusetts, a bank in which her husband held shares. Rep. Barney Frank (D-Mass.) later wrote language into the bailout bill that effectively directed the Treasury to give special consideration to OneUnited, and he followed up with a call to Treasury. The bank got $12 million. (Emphasis added.)

That forthcoming report from “SIGTARP” — special inspector general Neil Barofsky — should be lots of fun.