By Scott Higham and Robert O'Harrow Jr.
Washington Post Staff Writers
Tuesday, April 24, 2007
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is expanding its investigation of a January videoconference, conducted by Karl Rove's deputy for General Services Administration appointees, to look at whether the political dealings of the White House have violated the Hatch Act, its chairman said last night.
Not long into its investigation of the presentation, Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch said, his office had collected "a sufficient amount of evidence" that merited a deeper examination of whether the White House was running afoul of the law.
J. Scott Jennings conducted the Jan. 26 videoconference in the political affairs office at the White House. His PowerPoint presentation, to as many as 40 Republican GSA political appointees, contained slides describing Democratic seats that the GOP planned to target in the next election and Republican seats that needed to be protected.
"That's the smoke," said an OSC staff member, who added that the OSC is looking at whether similar briefings occurred at other executive branch agencies. The staff member spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
The 1939 Hatch Act limits the political activities that government employees can conduct with government property or on government time. The Office of Special Counsel is charged with investigating allegations of Hatch Act violations.
Bloch, who was appointed by President Bush in January 2004, declined to detail specific areas of interest.
"We're moving with a great deal of dispatch," he said. "It's important that people know the Office of the Special Counsel will do a fair, effective and thorough job."
A White House spokesman had no comment on the investigation last night, saying that he was unaware of any contacts from the Office of Special Counsel.
A House committee is also looking into the Jennings presentation. Rep. Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.) asked White House political affairs director Karl Rove last month whether he or Jennings consulted with anyone about whether the presentation might violate the Hatch Act.
After the PowerPoint presentation, General Services Administration chief Lurita Alexis Doan allegedly asked how GSA employees could "help 'our candidates' in the next elections," according to statements that several participants provided to congressional investigators. But she testified last month before Waxman's committee, the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, that she could not recall details of the PowerPoint presentation.
Two senators called yesterday for Doan to resign, saying she has "crossed the line" during her 11-month tenure and "misunderstands her role" as leader of the agency.
Sens. Byron L. Dorgan (D-N.D.) and Ron Wyden (D-Ore.) said Doan politicized the agency, tried to give a no-bid job to a friend, "intervened" in a contract that could cost taxpayers millions and tried to curtail the ability of the agency's auditors to examine contracts.
"In a year she has, again and again, demonstrated that she is not willing to bring the objectivity that is necessary in the management of an agency with this kind of impact on the lives of our taxpayers and the American people," Wyden said at a Capitol Hill news briefing.
In response, Doan's office issued a statement: "The Administrator remains greatly optimistic about the future of the General Services Administration and is humbled and honored to serve the President and the American people in leading this great agency. Her commitment to fiscal discipline and effective government have never been stronger and she looks forward to continuing successes in the days ahead."
White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said the administration is reviewing a report on the matter by the GSA inspector general.
Staff writer Michael Abramowitz contributed to this report.