Bush special counsel Bloch to plead guilty to withholding evidence from probe
Scott J. Bloch, the former director of a federal office in charge of helping shield government whistleblowers from unfair treatment, plans to plead guilty to withholding information from congressional investigators after he had his office computer files professionally deleted in 2006.
U.S. prosecutors filed papers in federal court Thursday that accuse Bloch, who led the Office of Special Counsel through much of President George W. Bush's administration, of failing to truthfully answer questions about whether he arranged for private computer technicians to "scrub" his office computer and that of other political appointees. This type of filing, known as an information, is made public when a suspect is about to plead guilty to allegations.
Bloch came under criticism early in his tenure as special counsel for ordering that all mention of workplace discrimination based on sexual orientation be removed from the office's Web site and printed materials. Bloch said his office lacked the authority to ban discrimination on the basis of sexual orientation.
He was abruptly removed from his post and barred from returning to his office in October 2008 after a meeting with White House officials.
The FBI began looking into allegations that he scrubbed his computer out of concern that he was trying to stop an inquiry into whether he violated the Hatch Act by mixing political activity with his official job.
Prosecutors said Bloch withheld information from the House oversight committee when it began investigating complaints about his office and allegations he was not properly protecting whistleblowers.
"On or about December 6, 2007, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ("House Oversight Committee"), requested that defendant Bloch provide a transcribed interview regarding his reported use of the private computer repair company Geeks On Call to delete files on OSC-issued computers in or about December of 2006 using a process known as a 'seven level wipe,' " the prosecutors' filing says.
"On or about March 4, 2008, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, defendant Bloch, having been requested by the House Oversight Committee to provide information upon a matter of pertinent inquiry before the Committee, unlawfully and willfully did make default by refusing and failing to state fully and completely the nature and extent of his instructions that Geeks On Call perform 'seven level wipes' on his OSC-issued computers as well as the OSC-issued computers of two non-career OSC appointees in or about December of 2006," prosecutors added.
Debra Katz, who represented several whistleblowers from Bloch's staff and filed a complaint on their behalf alleging that he retaliated against his internal critics, called the charges "a slap on the wrist." She said Bloch could have been charged with more serious counts such as perjury or obstruction of justice.
With the criminal case about to be resolved, Katz called on the Office of Personnel Management to release its investigative report on Bloch's behavior in office.
Staff writer Jerry Markon contributed to this report.