Archive for ‘Byron York’

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 22, 2009

The Mother of All IG-Gate Updates

On the Internet, stuff gets scattered around so that you never see it all in one place. Today’s IG-Gate Update at the Hot Air Green Room pushes the story forward:

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. Sources say Democratic staffers have skipped meetings and conference calls to which they were invited by GOP investigators, who are attempting to work with Grassley’s staff in order to prevent unnecessary duplication of efforts. Sharing documents and scheduling interviews with witnesses, allowing Republican and Democratic investigators from both chambers an opportunity to question these witnesses, is a demanding logistical task. And GOP staffers complain that this task seems to be lacking in terms of bipartisanship. . . .

Read the whole thing, because toward the end, I make this point:

This is a huge story, involving multiple investigations, and 1,200 words here don’t even begin to summarize the 1,400 words there [at The American Spectator on Monday], to say nothing of the 400 words I did last night about the SIGTARP report.

Like I said, read the whole thing, and follow the links, because this is one big sprawling mother of a story. The best I can do in any single chunk is to bring in new facts, new quotes, new angles, and link to as much other the other stuff as possible. (That Green Room article includes more than 25 links, including the link to the Spectator article, which has more than a dozen links.)

If you’ll go to Bob Belvedere’s WWU-AM and scroll down, he’s got a huge IG-Gate link dump with my reporting, Byron York’s reporting, columns by Michelle Malkin, reports from ABC News, the Washington Post, etc. There’s a lot of stuff out there, in other words, and you need to see it all if you want to try to understand this thing.

“Try,” I say, because I don’t even claim to understand it all yet. My sources talk about things and sometimes I can tell they’re trying to drop me a hint of something they want me to write about, e.g., “Who Is Eleanor Acheson?” It’s important to ask the right questions, as one of my sources said.

On the one hand, there is the temptation to focus on one aspect of the story — the Washington Times keeps calling this “WalpinGate,” which is too narrow — but on the other hand, you’ve got to be careful not to waste time playing “connect-the-dots” with things that might not really be connected. Yes, there’s a pattern, but that doesn’t mean there’s a conspiracy.

Still, as I predicted on June 18 — right after Michelle Malkin’s first column on the Walpin case slapped me upside the head — this story isn’t going away anytime soon. June 18 was the same day IG Fred Wiederhold delivered his report to the Amtrak board and suddenly retired, and also the same day Chuck Grassley made public his letter about the International Trade Commission IG, Judith Gwynne.

So barely a week after Walpin got his June 10 quit-or-be-fired ultimatum from White House lawyer Norm Eisen, there were two other IG cases. Then we have the case of the watchdog who’s still hanging tough, SIGTARP, Neil Barofsky. The bailout watchdog showed yesterday how much trouble he can cause, and it’s therefore no mystery why Treasury’s giving Barofsky a hard time. (My money’s still on Barofsky as the IG most likely to get a Cabinet secretary sent to federal prison.)

IG-Gate is a big mother, you see. Because I’m on deadline for a print magazine article, there’s no time for me to do a complete aggregation now, but here are the major IG-Gate articles I’ve done so far:

Each of those items is chock-full of links to other items. As you can see, just six weeks into this story, there’s a lot of stuff out there — and, no doubt, a lot more to come. Just keep hitting the tip jar.

One of these days, I plan to hit the American Spectator with the mother of all expense reimbursement requests — “$800 for fireworks?” “Promotional activity. Perfectly legitimate, Al.” — but in the meantime, Daddy needs a new pair of shoes.

UPDATE: Welcome, Instapundit readers! Just in case you’re wondering why Professor Reynolds loves this story so much, I once again remind you to read the whole thing. The professor’s drooling at the prospect of The Mother of All Chris Dodd Updates.

Meanwhile, be sure to check out the IG-Gate Rule 3 memo, which offers more tasty watchdog morsels.

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.

May 1, 2009

Racist Byron York?

“I suppose if you haven’t been called a racist by the usual suspects on the left, you haven’t been writing for very long.”

November 2, 2008

Byron York on Palin

Last week in Shippensburg, Pa., I ran into National Review‘s Byron York, who has a nice feature today about the enthusiasm Sarah Palin generates among rank-and-file Republicans.

I covered two McCain events (in Wilkes-Barre and York, Pa.) before he picked Palin, and I’ve covered three events (Lebanon, Ohio, Hershey, Pa., and Shippensburg) since he picked Palin, and the difference is night and day in terms of the grassroots energy. “People have been coming out of the woodwork ever since Sarah Palin’s name was announced. … She’s a person that has brought the Republican Party together in a huge way,” as Don Prince, GOP chairman in Warren County, Ohio, told me.