Obama Presidency At Risk Over Kevin Johnson?

One of the storylines that emerged from the 2008 presidential election was that Barack Obama would be the first “basketball” president. That seemed like a largely meaningless distinction; yes, he played b-ball while growing up instead of hitting the gridiron like Gerald Ford and George H.W. Bush, but unless you care who the President puts in his NCAA bracket (and why would you? Do we ask Joe Lunardi about politics?), who cares, right?

Kevin Johnson
(Remember this guy?)

Oddly enough, though, it may be the shenanigans of an Obama-backing former basketball player (and, as it were, the owner of several pro sports franchises) that may, if not derail the entire Obama presidency, at the very least give the opposition a legitimate salvo to fire for the 2010 election cycle.

The WASHINGTON EXAMINER (more on them in a bit) is covering a story about Gerald Walpin, an inspector general who was fired as he investigated the possible misuse of roughly $750,000 in federal grant money. And the key figure in said misuse? One Kevin Johnson, yes, that Kevin Johnson, now the mayor of Sacramento.

Walpin’s investigation also sparked conflict with the acting U.S. attorney in Sacramento amid fears that the probe — which could have resulted in Johnson being barred from ever winning another federal grant — might stand in the way of the city receiving its part of billions of dollars in federal stimulus money. After weeks of standoff, Walpin, whose position as inspector general is supposed to be protected from influence by political appointees and the White House, was fired.

Walpin learned his fate Wednesday night. He was driving to an event in upstate New York when he received a call from Norman Eisen, the Special Counsel to the President for Ethics and Government Reform. “He said, ‘Mr. Walpin, the president wants me to tell you that he really appreciates your service, but it’s time to move on,’” Walpin recalls. “Eisen said, ‘You can either resign, or I’ll tell you that we’ll have to terminate you.’”

The article is long, long, lawwwwng, but worth a read nonetheless - with a significant caveat. The Examiner is owned by Philip Anschutz, a prominent backer of right-wing causes and the recent new owner of the far-right WEEKLY STANDARD. To say he’s got a stake in taking down Obama is an understatement, and that bias is played out among the rest of the available articles.

Anschutz, incidentally, also owns the Anschutz Entertainment Group, which either owns or has stakes in such franchises as the Los Angeles Kings, the LA Galaxy, the Los Angeles Lakers, the Houston Dynamo, and a host of European franchises. There’s no direct evidence to suggest that his ownership of those teams in any way affects his coverage of Johnson, a former Phoenix Sun and mayor of the home of the Sacramento Kings.

All that said, there’s nothing inherently objectionable in this article itself. It just seems downright bizarre that a White House would risk severe political and ethical embarrassment over what is, in their terms, a piddling amount of money and consequence. Without hearing their side of the story, it not only doesn’t look good, it doesn’t even look plausible.