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A Biden connection: The Amtrak IG scandal

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By Michelle Malkin  •  June 23, 2009 05:00 PM

Last week, Sen. Charles Grassley raised questions about the sudden “retirement” of Amtrak IG Fred Weiderhold:

As a senior member of the United States Senate and as the Ranking Member of the Senate Committee on Finance (Committee), it is my duty under the Constitution to ensure that Inspectors General, which were created by Congress, are permitted to operate without political pressure or interference from their respective agencies. Inspectors General were designed for the express purpose of combating waste, fraud, and abuse and to be independent watchdogs ensuring that federal agencies were held accountable for their actions. I understand that Inspector General Fred Weiderhold, Jr. has retired today.

Based on contacts that my staff had with Mr. Weiderhold on two recent occasions (April 2, 2009 and June 4, 2009), I understand that the OIG has suffered from repeated and continuous interference from the agency. After the most recent discussion, it was agreed that the OIG would provide, among other things, a White Paper and specific examples of agency interference with OIG audits and/or investigations. To date, the OIG has not yet provided any documents. As you know, any interference such as that was described in these previous discussions is a direct violation of the Inspector General Act of 1978.

In light of Mr. Weiderhold’s unexpected retirement, please provide the previously requested documentation immediately. I am deeply troubled that these aforementioned meetings with my staff and discussions of the OIG’s independence concerns predicated this personnel action with IG Weiderhold. Furthermore, I am even more concerned that there is a lack of accountability, based on the OIG’s reported lack of independence, for the $1.3 billion in stimulus funds that Amtrak has received from American taxpayers.

Due to these recent events, I specifically request all materials at the IG’s office be preserved immediately.

In addition to providing the requested documentation, please provide an immediate briefing to my staff on the level of proper oversight the OIG has over of the $1.3 billion dollars of American taxpayer money, and what role the previously discussed independence issues with the agency played in the elimination of former IG Weiderhold.

Stacy McCain detects the faint odor of cronyism and corruption:

Eleanor Acheson is vice president and general counsel at AmTrak, where inspector general Fred Wiederhold resigned Thursday without warning or explanation. Sen. Charles Grassley says Wiederhold’s unexpected resignation came after he was asked to provide “specific examples of agency interference with OIG audits and/or investigations.”

A bit more Googling shows Eleanor Acheson to be a Friend of Joe — Joe Biden, that is, Amtrak’s most famous rider and currently vice president of the United States. Wiederhold has said nothing publicly since his resignation five days ago.

Google doesn’t tell us whether the former Amtrak IG’s curious silence has anything to do with the well-connected legal honcho at Amtrak. At least, not yet.

The relationship goes beyond a campaign contribution.

Flasbhack 2007. Cozy:

Amtrak, the national passenger rail service that comes under regular congressional fire for its persistent deficit, has hired Jonathan Meyer as deputy general counsel.

Meyer, who leaves Capitol Hill after six years as nominations counsel to Sen. Joseph Biden Jr., D-Del., was hired by Amtrak’s new general counsel, Eleanor “Eldie” Acheson. The two worked together at the Clinton Justice Department when Acheson was assistant attorney general in charge of the Office of Policy Development, now known as the Office of Legal Policy.

Biden regularly rides Amtrak between Washington and his home in Wilmington, Del., and is one of the rail company’s staunchest Hill supporters. (Biden’s son is also on Amtrak’s board.) Despite those connections, Meyer says his hiring at Amtrak is merely a “happy coincidence.”

His relationship with Acheson, he says, predates his work on the Hill. “When Eldie was brought on to be general counsel in January, she wanted to bring in someone of her own, and she immediately asked me,” says Meyer. “I’ve really enjoyed working with her in the past.”

In his career Meyer has also practiced at then-Wilmer, Cutler & Pickering in Washington, D.C., and with Davis Polk & Wardwell in New York City.

And Biden’s son, Hunter, sits on Amtrak’s board of directors.

Take a whiff. Yep, smells like old-school cronyism to me, too.

All aboard!

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