WASHINGTON – U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch repeatedly butted heads with a task force he set up to decide whether to investigate high-profile accusations of political meddling by the Bush administration, draft documents released Wednesday show.
A look at 11 subject areas identified for potential investigation, however, shows no apparent partisan pattern or bias by Bloch in deciding whether his office would pursue accusations that political work was being done on government time and property.
Meanwhile, a Republican congressman on Wednesday joined liberal-leaning whistle-blower groups in demanding that Bloch resign immediately. A day earlier, Bloch's office and home were raided by federal agents as part of a criminal investigation into whether he destroyed evidence potentially showing he retaliated against his own staff.
The Office of Special Counsel is responsible for protecting the rights of federal workers and ensuring that government whistle-blowers are not subjected to reprisals.
"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. Tom Davis, R-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 and return to the important work of protecting federal whistle-blowers."
Bloch's attorney, Roscoe Howard, declined comment.
The new documents, released Wednesday by the watchdog group Project on Open Government, detail 11 subject areas the Office of Special Counsel's task force identified for potential investigation.
In more than half of the cases, according to the draft report dated Jan. 18, 2008, Bloch and the task force disagreed on whether an investigation should be pursued or closed. They included:
—The case of the former Justice Department's liaison to the White House, Monica Goodling, who admitted in congressional testimony last year that she illegally gave hiring preference to Republican Party activists seeking career prosecutor jobs. The task force pushed to investigate, but Bloch blocked it. Finally, in November, Bloch told the task force it could continue, but without "devotion or resources authorized at this time."
—An investigation into whether White House political staffers gave improper briefings to employees at 25 federal agencies. Bloch demanded a "hard hitting" report about all the political staffers' activities. The task force, however, recommended against seeking documents about grant awards without evidence that money was given improperly. At one point, the task force raised concerns that parts of the investigation were "too broad and may exceed OSC's jurisdiction."
—A look into whether a federal prosecution of former Alabama Gov. Don Siegelman, a Democrat, was engineered by Republicans to kill his re-election. Though the task force began compiling evidence, it was "informed that the Special Counsel did not authorize the task force to investigate these allegations, and to do so is a breach."
A person familiar with the origins of the draft document said the decision to not pursue Siegelman or any of the other cases stemmed mostly from a shortage of time and resources. The person spoke on condition of anonymity because of the ongoing investigation.
Danielle Brian, POGO's executive director, called the document "deeply troubling new evidence of Bloch's misuse of his office."