By Christopher Lee and Carrie Johnson
Washington Post Staff Writers
Thursday, May 8, 2008
A veteran Republican lawmaker called on Office of Special Counsel chief Scott J. Bloch to resign yesterday, one day after nearly two dozen FBI agents raided OSC headquarters and carted off boxes of documents and equipment that officials said were related to a probe of Bloch's activities.
"In light of the various investigations into Mr. Bloch's conduct, including the FBI probe revealed yesterday, it's hard to believe he can continue to operate effectively," Rep. Thomas M. Davis III (Va.), the top Republican on the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, said in a statement. "It's time the OSC put this turbulent period behind it."
Bloch, appointed by President Bush in 2003 to protect government whistle-blowers and to enforce prohibitions on political activity in the federal workplace, is facing allegations of political bias, obstruction of justice and mismanagement. The inspector general at the Office of Personnel Management has investigated Bloch since 2005 over alleged mistreatment of employees and his handling of whistle-blower cases, but Tuesday's raid was a significant escalation.
Bloch and more than a dozen current and former OSC employees have been served with subpoenas to appear before a grand jury, which will probably begin hearing testimony the week of May 19, sources familiar with the investigation said. The lead prosecutor is Assistant U.S. Attorney James Mitzelfeld, who works on public corruption cases.
Other critics have also called for Bloch's ouster, including the Project on Government Oversight (POGO) and Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility -- both nonprofit groups -- and a lawyer representing several current and former OSC employees.
"The fact is, this office is not functional with him in charge," said Debra S. Katz, who represents several OSC employees who have complained about mismanagement and retaliation.
Bush administration spokesman Scott Stanzel said the White House does not comment on personnel matters. Bloch, who was in his office working yesterday, spent part of the day consulting with his personal lawyer, former U.S. attorney Roscoe C. Howard, said James P. Mitchell, an OSC spokesman.
Bloch did not respond to an interview request. Howard declined to comment.
The subpoenas focused mainly on Bloch's hiring in 2006 of the technology service Geeks on Call to erase his computer hard drive and those of two aides, said a person familiar with the case. Bloch has said he sought to purge a computer virus and protect against hackers. Critics say the move was an attempt to thwart the OPM's investigation.
FBI agents also sought documents relating to Bloch's investigation of Lurita Alexis Doan, forced to resign as General Services Administration chief by the White House last week, and a long-closed OSC investigation into whether the travel of then-national security adviser Condoleezza Rice before the 2004 election was for political purposes.
Critics inside Bloch's office have accused him of having the Rice case assigned to himself and then delaying action until after the election. They say that Bloch falsely told Congress that the complaint had never been assigned to him, and that he altered the OSC's computer system to remove information about the handling of the case. Bloch has denied any wrongdoing.
The turbulence is politically awkward for the administration and the OSC. Among the special counsel's ongoing investigations are high-profile probes of White House-sponsored political briefings at federal agencies, politically charged firings of several U.S. attorneys and allegations that the Federal Aviation Administration has been covering up air traffic control errors.
Bloch's critics contend that these probes are little more than an attempt by Bloch to deflect attention from his own troubles. "He's creating his own illusion of an investigation to counter the real one of himself," said Beverley Lumpkin, an investigator at POGO.
In an internal draft memo to Bloch dated Jan. 18, a group of OSC employees overseeing the Justice Department probe and others said OSC investigators turned up no evidence that any of the fired U.S. attorneys had been pressured to take actions meant to affect the 2006 election. That is the main question over which the OSC has jurisdiction. They recommended dropping the matter until Justice concluded an internal probe into the firings.
In the memo, obtained by POGO and made public yesterday, the employees expressed concerns that other probes, such as that involving the political briefings, were overly broad. They also said they had been denied permission to open investigations more squarely in the agency's jurisdiction. Mitchell, the OSC spokesman, said the agency did not have the resources to investigate everything at once.
Staff writer Stephen Barr contributed to this report.