Agency Chief Alleges Interference In Probe of U.S. Attorney Firings

By Glenn Kessler
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, January 31, 2008

The federal investigator who is probing possible White House misconduct and who himself is under investigation over alleged wrongdoing in his office is now accusing another investigator of trying to thwart his probes.

Scott J. Bloch, head of an obscure agency charged with protecting the rights of federal workers, sent a five-page letter last week to Attorney General Michael B. Mukasey complaining that his agency, the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, had been asked to step aside from an investigation into the firing of nine U.S. attorneys until internal Justice Department probes into those firings are completed.

Bloch wrote that months might pass before that happens, pushing his agency's role "into the very last months of the administration when there is little hope of any corrective measures or discipline possible."

Bloch's letter, which was briefly discussed during questioning of Mukasey yesterday on Capitol Hill, strikes an unusual, almost peevish tone for official communications between government agencies. He accused Justice Department Inspector General Glenn A. Fine of "misleading and factually incorrect representations" and complained that Fine in turn had accused his office, an independent agency, of "a pattern of misrepresentation." Also, he accused another official of "deliberate disregard for the law" for not adequately responding to his inquiries.

Bloch has achieved notoriety for his own problems with government investigations. The White House in 2005 asked the Office of Personnel Management (OPM) to investigate allegations that Bloch had retaliated against whistle-blowers among his own staff members and improperly dismissed whistle-blower cases brought to the agency by others.

Bloch in November confirmed that his office had wiped clean the hard drives of his computer and those of two aides in what he said was an effort to get rid of a virus. He refused a request from the OPM to turn over personal files that were deleted from the computer.

During yesterday's hearing, Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.) said she is concerned about Bloch's allegations. "He essentially says he is being stiffed, not responded to," she said, noting, "It's a rather lengthy letter."

Mukasey said, "You're right, it's a lengthy letter," and promised that an official response would be soon forthcoming.

In the letter, Bloch also complained about Fine's response to an investigation into the management style of the former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, Rachel K. Paulose. Bloch wrote a letter to Mukasey on Nov. 19 -- the same day that Paulose announced her resignation to return to Washington -- in which Bloch concluded that there is a "substantial likelihood" that she had mismanaged her job and abused her authority.

In last week's letter, which was dated Jan. 25, Bloch wrote that Fine did not appear to take his complaint seriously, pointedly asking Mukasey: "Are you requesting that I report to the president that you refuse to investigate disclosures of wrongdoing made by a career federal prosecutor, an employee of your agency?"

Fine's office generally does not comment on investigations, but Cynthia Schnedar, a spokeswoman for the inspector general, rejected Bloch's letter as "both factually inaccurate and misleading."

She added: "We agree with the Department of Justice that the more responsible course would be for Mr. Bloch to postpone his limited review -- as OSC has stated that it has done in other instances -- so that it does not interfere with the Office of the Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility's comprehensive joint investigation into the U.S. Attorney firings."

James P. Mitchell, a spokesman for Bloch, challenged Fine's office to explain the alleged inaccuracies in detail. "We have our jurisdiction," he said. "We have always said we will not be interfering with this investigation."

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