Republican Sen. Charles Grassley has blocked the ambassadorial nomination of Alan Solomont, currently chairman of the board of the government agency that oversees AmeriCorps, in retaliation for what Grassley says is the administration's stonewalling of Congress over documents relating to the firing of AmeriCorps inspector general Gerald Walpin. Specifically, Grassley has sought, and been denied, information relating to the White House's role in the decision to fire Walpin.
Solomont, a major Democratic donor, is chairman of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which includes AmeriCorps. His term ends in October, and President Obama has nominated him to be U.S. ambassador to Spain. The nomination was approved by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee last week and now moves to the Senate floor — except that Grassley has placed a hold on it, meaning it will go nowhere until the senator's objections are resolved.
On June 12 of this year, shortly after Walpin was summarily fired, Grassley wrote to the Corporation demanding “all records, email, memoranda, documents, communications, or other information, whether in draft or final form” related to the firing. Among other things, Grassley asked for any contacts between the Corporation and the White House and between the Corporation and the United States Attorney's Office. Although the Corporation has provided information requested in other areas — mostly internal documents involving Walpin — Grassley says the Corporation has not responded at all to the request for information relating to the White House and U.S. Attorney's Office.
“The public’s business ought to be public, especially when there are serious questions about whether an inspector general was fired for political reasons,” Grassley said in a statement. “The leaders of the Corporation for National and Community Service have been far from transparent about the dismissal of the inspector general. Until the Senate receives the documents we need for a complete picture of what happened, this nominee will have to wait before his confirmation is considered with my consent.”
Grassley also points out that not only has the Corporation not provided the requested information, it has also not complied with the common practice of providing a list of the withheld documents along with the reason for withholding them.
Any senator may place an anonymous hold on a nomination. Grassley is not shy about using his power to block a nomination, but always acts in full public view; when he places a hold, he also issues a public announcement and explanation for his action.
Walpin was fired without warning June 10, when he received a call from the White House telling him he had an hour either to resign or be terminated — an apparent violation of a law giving special job protections to inspectors general. When Walpin refused to quit, he was fired. At the time, Walpin was involved in a contentious investigation of corruption allegations involving a prominent Obama supporter, Mayor Kevin Johnson of Sacramento, California.