City Desk

What Was Michelle Rhee’s ‘Damage Control’ for Kevin Johnson?

Stories broke this morning in the Los Angeles Times and in the Examiner reporting that D.C. Schools Chancellor Michelle Rhee took an active role in investigations of her fiance, Sacramento Mayor Kevin Johnson.

Allow LL to explicate a little more fully what this is and what Rhee is alleged to have done.

Rhee's involvement in Johnson's dealing has been revealed as part of an investigation by two congressional Republicans into the firing of Gerald Walpin, who had served as inspector general for the federal AmeriCorps program until June. Republicans allege that Walpin was fired by the Obama administration for political reasons—in particular, for pressing his investigation of mismanagement of federal funds by St. Hope, the nonprofit founded by prominent Democrat and Obama ally Johnson. The Republican report [PDF], released today, concludes that the White House's decision to fire Walpin was "based on incomplete and misleading information"; that a White House lawyer's explanation for the firing is "not credible"; and that the firing "is likely to have a chilling effect on the IG community." In other words, there's a lot of political posturing going on here.

But along with their report, the Republicans also released Walpin's IG report on St. Hope, which includes interview notes indicating that Rhee got involved after a St. Hope employee reported being "touched inappropriately" by Johnson.

Rhee's involvement in the probe stems from the statements of Jacqueline Wong-Hernandez, a former St. Hope staff member, to federal investigators. According to an interview report, Wong-Hernandez told an investigator that Rhee was well known as someone who filled several roles with Johnson's St. Hope organization and would use Johnson's office when she was in town. Wong-Hernandez said that Rhee 'played the role as "Damage Control". When there was a problem at St. HOPE, Ms. Rhee was there the next day taking care of the problem.'

When the sexual misconduct allegations were raised, Rhee contacted Wong-Hernandez to figure out what had happened, telling her "she was making this her number one priority and she would take care of the situation." Subsequently, Wong-Hernandez found out that Johnson's lawyer had contacted the accuser, after which the accuser dropped the complaint.

Disgusted with how the incident had been handled, Wong-Hernandez quit St. Hope, and it was Rhee who conducted the exit interview. She told Rhee the reason she was leaving was the way St. Hope had handled the sexual misconduct allegation. According to the interview report, "Ms, Wong-Hernandez also informed Ms. Rhee that she didn't trust the management at St. HOPE. Ms. Rhee documented the interview in her daily planner and responded to Ms. Wong-Hernandez by thanking her for bringing it to her attention how disorganized the program had become. Ms. Rhee didn't try to talk Ms. Wong-Hernandez into staying."

The L.A. Times further reports that Rhee spoke directly to Walpin, having discussions "in which she made the case for Johnson and the school he ran in Sacramento" and described Johnson as "a good guy." Still, the paper reports, "Rhee's position had little effect on [Walpin], who filed a criminal referral to the U.S. attorney on Johnson....But both the Sacramento police and federal attorneys declined to pursue charges."

When Walpin's report had to say regarding Johnson's sexual misconduct was a relatively minor part of the report, which focused on misappropriation of federal funds and other serious-but-less-salacious charges. But allow LL to share what Walpin turned up—the first instance related in the report is what was described to Rhee by Wong-Hernandez; it's unknown if Rhee was aware of the other allegations below:

G. Improper Sexual Physical Conduct

Our investigation disclosed evidence of sexual misconduct towards young female Members by Mr. Johnson. One Member, [REDACTED] (Ex. 19 hereto), reported that, in the February/March 2007 time frame, she was entering grades into the SAC High database system per Mr. Johnson's instructions at the St. HOPE office at night, purportedly as part of her AmeriCorps service. [REDACTED] contacted Mr. Johnson to inform him that she had completed the grades and wanted him to review them. About 11:00 pm, Mr. Johnson arrived at St. HOPE and instructed [REDACTED] to gather her things and come with him. Mr. Johnson drove to [REDACTED] apartment, which is managed by St. HOPE Development and houses its AmeriCorps Members, purportedly so that they could review the students' grades. While in [REDACTED], in which another AmeriCorps Member had a separate bedroom, Mr, Johnson laid down on [REDACTED's] bed, [REDACTED] sat on the edge of the bed to show him the grades, at which time Mr. Johnson "layed down behind me, cupping his body around mine like the letter C. After about 2-3 minutes or so, I felt his hand on my left side where my hip bone is." Further, although not detailed in her written statement, [REDACTED], during the interview, demonstrated, while explaining, that Mr. Johnson's hand went under her untucked shirt and moved until his hand was on her hip. [REDACTED] immediately got up and stated she was done and left the room. When she returned, Mr. Johnson was still in her bed, but now apparently sleeping. Only after [REDACTED] sought to take a blanket to sleep elsewhere did Mr. Johnson exit to the living room of the apartment. [REDACTED] related that Mr. Johnson slept on the couch in her apartment living room that night and subsequently left the apartment at approximately 6 a.m. the next day.

After, as [REDACTED] put it, she "got the courage to tell... my supervisors," she reported the incident, which, she was informed, was communicated to St. HOPE Academy's Human Resources Department and the Chief Financial Officer. The night after [REDACTED] made her report, Mr. Johnson approached her and apologized. Subsequently, Kevin Hiestand, Johnson's personal attorney, met with [REDACTED], described himself only "as a friend of Johnson," and "basically asked me to keep quiet." Also, about one week after this incident, when [REDACTED] told Mr. Johnson she was going to quit because of financial and family reasons, Mr. Johnson "offered to give me $1,000 a month until the end of the program," stating that it would be confidential "between him and I." As [REDACTED] related that conversation, Mr. Johnson "said all he needed was my savings account number," he would make the deposit and "no one needed to know about it." [REDACTED] did not accept this offer by giving Mr. Johnson her account number.

Another former Member, [REDACTED] (Ex. 20 hereto), reported that, while attending a St. HOPE sponsored trip to Harlem, NY, from June 26 to July 16, 2006, Mr. Johnson, on three occasions, "brushed [her] leg with his hand," including once "flip[ingj up the edge of her skirt. Other times, she stated, Mr. Johnson kissed her cheek, brushed up against her as he walked past, and massaged her shoulders. ([REDACTED] reported another incident that occurred in Sacramento, CA, in which Mr. Johnson touched [REDACTED's] inner thigh with his hand while enroute to a restaurant. [REDACTED] said she did not report the incidents to AmeriCorps officials at that time because she feared she would be terminated from the program and because Mr. Johnson was assisting her in obtaining acceptance into the United States Military Academy, where she subsequently enrolled.

In addition, former SAC High teacher Mr. Erik Jones (Ex. 12 hereto) reported that a former AmeriCorps Member, [REDACTED], reported to him, sometime in 2007, that, while at SAC High, Mr. Johnson had inappropriately touched her. Mr. Jones stated that [REDACTED] had reported that Mr. Johnson started massaging her shoulders and then reached over and touched her breasts. (Attempts to interview [REDACTED] have been so far unsuccessful.) Mr. Jones related that, after he reported this incident to St. HOPE Academy officials, he was contacted by Mr. Hiestand, Mr. Johnson's attorney, but who identified himself solely as St. HOPE'S counsel, and stated he was conducting an internal investigation. Mr. Hiestand told Mr. Jones that [REDACTED's] "story" was different from Mr, Jones' and told Mr. Jones to change his "story" and then go back to work. Mr. Jones, realizing what he was being asked to do, elected to resign as a teacher and left SAC High.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery

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  • candycane1

    This is the woman making decisions about our children? Engagaed to an alleged child molester and participated in the cover up? Check out the allegations that happened in Phoenix and the conversation taped by the police between Johnson and a 16 year old. Google will get you there.

    To think he came here to testify on her behalf at her confirmation hearing. Damn!!!!

    WOW! The chancellor is engaged to a man that likes young girls and she has two of her own. We trust her to make decisions that are in the best interest of our children? NOT!!!!!!!

    She refers to him as a "good guy". Well I guess we can assume where the goods are and how he attempts to use them. Since Rhee can overlook his issues and take care of it as a priority, what does that make her in urban terms, "the bottom bitch"? The chickens are coming home to roost!!!

    After the harm she has caused and the anti-deficiency violations that caused hundreds to lose their jobs, after flying all around this country bashing this work force, I am happy to see it coming back to her nationally.

  • Anonymous

    For whatever it's worth, Rhee and Johnson were married a week or two ago.

  • Mike DeBonis

    Say WHAT? They just got _engaged_. News broke on Nov. you know something we don't?

  • Ward 5

    If that's true Anonymous, would be perfect - now she cant testify against him (if matters got that far).

  • From WP

    This story isn't new by any means. When she was pushing St. Hopes as an educational management organization (EMO)on several DC high schools the PTA at Eastern did a very thorough investigation on him and his non-profit. Due to the non-stop questioning of Rhee's office about Mr. Johnson's past wrong-doing, Ms. Rhee decided to personally attend his presentation at Eastern. Note, this was the only school she visited during the EMO courting process. She called the PTA leadership "attitudinal" when introducing them to her "secret" beau. Hmm.....

  • Anonymous

    Maybe I misheard the news story (on WRC/NBC4, I think...), but I thought that they actually got married a weekend or two ago in Sacramento.

  • Simon

    woah. this is seriously serious.

  • J

    so is she married or not? Its a very easy thing to find out people

  • Woodley Parker

    Wow. Just wow.

  • huh?

    Does anyone remember the Marc Fisher story a few months ago about Rhee in which she gave relationship advice to a subordinate? Looks like she must be out of her head defending and marrying someone who is harassing young women. My advice to her is to get out ASAP before she ruins her life with that creep.

  • Mike DeBonis

    If a Ch 4 story you may have heard is the sourcing, then I am confident saying they are are not married.

  • jay

    Rhee..needs to be fired!

  • Tired

    Damn she is covering for her man, and destroying lives here. This woman is unbelieveable she better remember she has daughters also

  • Samantha

    Two SICKOOOOOOOOOOO"S . The whole FENTY FREAK SHOW is a cancer on our city and children .

  • jay

    Rhee is as sick as that bitch in north carolina who sold her daughter to a pervert...Hey Michelle..his dick cant be that big!

  • Bisexual Vampire

    I thought Rhee was already married and married to a white male. She doesn't seem the type to date a Negro. Most Asian and Hispanic women prefer white males outside their ethnicity.

  • Anonymous


    Ha ha... I suppose you're right re: channel 4 as a source. Sorry for any confusion I may have caused, but I'm pretty sure they reported it that way.

  • anon

    No way, anonymous. If news 4 had reported it that way, it would be all over town by now, not just in your head.

    Meanwhile, like Ward 5 above, I agree that being married would have special benefits for these two. Maybe there willbe an announcement soon.

  • DCNatives

    Rhee's ex-husband needs to file for full custody of his daughter if Rhee marries the molester.

  • greenstate

    Isn't not reporting sexual misconduct a class B misdeameanor? This is san area of the law that all public officials, psychologists, social workers etc. receive training. As a Board Member did Rhee violate her legal obligation to convey this report to an outside official, as did KJ.

  • a.b.e.

    I agree that Rhee's husband should file for sole custody of the children if she marries Kevin Johnson. I don't believe she should have visitation rights either.

  • Five to Go

    The two-newlyweds should both be sent to prison. His charge having "short-eyes", and her's just being plain stupid, and having a BIG MOUTH. She needs to go, now straight to Hell!
    This woman does not care about her own children, nor DCPS children.

  • candycane1

    You know what's even scarier? Heaven forbid that a students report to a teacher or the principal that something similar has happened in shool. There have always been policies and procedures to address that. However, thi administration doesn't play by rules or even common sense for that matter. With the MO being that of intimidation and threats, a prinipal who does it by the book and the law could lose a job for doing so if it appears that all is not perfect in DCPS. Beware new principals, the vets owuld never have thought about what to do. But you have to watch your back even when you're doing the right thing. WOW! Advice: If a situation comes your way regarding sexual misconduct, you have a responsibility to report it. Let central screw up if need be but document, document, document. You may lose a job fooling with Rhee-fool, but you won't get sued.

  • gizmo

    How sad. I knew KJ when he played in the NBA. But, it was always odd that he never had a girlfriend or brought anyone to the official events. Not your typical athlete. First thing that came to my mind was that now Rhee couldn't testify against him. Guess I'm not the only one putting two and two together. All I can say is absolute power corrupts absolutely. And to think this man is a professed Christian!

  • Fred

    Nice Gizmo.

  • Concerned Citizen

    WOW the law clearly states that one must report alledged allegations of abuse and neglect to the local child welfare agency. this was clearly not done. Kevin Johnson is a undercove freak and molester. Maybe this is why Ms. Rhee was so unmoved by the incident in which Peaceaholics touched a student at Spingarn Senior High School. Not once did she come out to the school and talk to the students or parents. Not once did she respond to my emails. I used to work at Spingarn and I personally emailed her to let her know that one she needed to speak with the parents and students at the school. This all fits in she supports and is going to marry a molester and fraud. How can she be trusted with federal money herself?

  • Marciela

    @Concerned Citizen, take your name off and then forward the e-mail you sent to the future Mrs. Johnson to Mike DeBonis so he can print it in the paper. It would go nicely with the Washington Post editorial board memo she sent to Ximena Hartsock after she "commanded" a positive editorial for Hartsock.

    Perhaps people in DC will now see she is a cover-up artist in DC situations that involve inappropriate contact and they can connect how utterly HORRIBLE it is for ANYONE to cover for a grown man who likes young girls. It is bad enough Johnson has a penchant for young girls that dates back with Phoenix evidence AND A PAYOFF to 1995 but even worse for a woman in a position of power to cover it up. I am thoroughly disgusted by her conduct. What if Johnson touched her daughters? Would she deny that? How can she look herself in the mirror when she did not report the offense in California as state law requires?

    This points out to me that she had a huge hand in manufacturing that RIF and covered her actions by throwing Noah Wepman under the bus. She also tried to throw DCPS under the bus by lying under oath and saying that DC was the only district in the US that was under federal watch for spending Title I funds. It only happened since she's been here as 'leader'.

    How the Obama administration can condone covering this up is beyond me. Had this been done by Republicans, the Democrats would STILL be crying about it.

    Here is a link to California laws that stipulate what should be reported:

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  • Korrupt

    The scariest part of the Fenty Freak Show is that Obama had the the attorney (Walpin) investigating the matter fired in June.

  • Hal Frederick

    For the LOVE of GOD when a grown man has sexual converations with a sixteen year old PLEASE DON't let him run a school or be involved with young women. Best believe if he was not a Phoenix Sun at the time he would have been CHARGED!!!! RHEE IS IN IT FOR THE FAME, ACCESS AND POWER! Pray for them people...he is SICK!

  • Bibiana Andrade

    I have many comments after watching the Lehrer News Hour again on school reform. First Michelle, How old are you? 30s. Right. Well it must be a great privilege to have so many options to work in so many sectors like education. The population you're trying to "fire" had few options so they went into teaching. Now you're punishing them. Offer them a nice severance package and I'm sure they will get out of your way. What's the social contract that you owe these old, weathered, beat up teachers? They are in their 50's and 60's. Where do you expect them to go? Figure that out and you've got school reform!!!!!!!! Don't think about that, and you've got a war on your hands.

  • dcdude

    She's merely his beard.

  • TripLBee

    I loved KJ when he was an NBA player. Anyone who was my size and could dunk on Hakeem Olajawon was okay in my book. In 1996, a good friend of mine went into business with KJ. I met him a few times through my friend when I was in Phoenix. My friend abruptly quit his business relationship with KJ and specifically cited the alleged sexual relationship KJ was having with a 16 year old. My buddy confronted KJ about the allegations, who, according to my friend, stated that the relationship was consensual. That's when I changed my views on the point when he privately admitted having sex with a 16 year old in the care of an organization he was running. I was sickened when he became the mayor of Sacramento and baffled when I heard that he and Rhee were engaged. These latest allegations come as no surprise. This guy is good looking, rich, famous, successful....but he is a serial sexual molester. He needs help. Rhee is insane to marry this guy, especially considering that she is the mother of two young girls. I hope her ex-husband files for custody.

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  • Avenger

    Congratulation Michelle Rhee. Now you are making the Metamorphosis from an Utopistic to a Realistic woman. Do not try to be Right, just be Practical. NOW YOU FOUND A WAY TO POCKED AT LEAST $50 Million. Those who decide what kind of education this nation must have, will accept the price, just to let your UTOPIA to FADE AWAY.