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Karl Rove's Least Likely Interrogator: Scott Bloch and the Office of Special Counsel

The controversial director of the OSC is launching the most high-profile (and politically fraught) investigation of his stormy, three-year tenure. Is it a courageous effort to expose White House malfeasance, or a last ditch attempt to save his own hide?

| Wed Apr. 25, 2007 3:00 AM EDT

He's been accused of rolling back protections for federal workers who face sexual-orientation discrimination; installing staffers in key posts who share his religious-conservative worldview; wielding his prosecutorial power for partisan purposes; and turning his agency into a "black hole" for whistleblower disclosures and complaints of reprisal. Welcome to Scott Bloch's stormy, three-year tenure at the helm of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC), the federal government's obscure whistleblower-protection agency, which is also in charge of policing whether federal employees are engaging in political activity on the job.

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Though he's long been in the crosshairs of watchdog groups and watched closely by Congress, Bloch may have just picked the biggest fight of his tenure—and it's not the one anyone expected him to take on. In a move that has shocked even his own staffers, Bloch is gearing up for a large-scale investigation into the administration's political operation, zeroing in on the man who has turned that operation into a veritable satellite office of the Republican National Committee: Karl Rove.

OSC will also probe the disappearance of an untold number of emails that were sent by White House officials using nongovernmental, RNC-issued email addresses and the circumstances behind the firing of at least one U.S. Attorney, New Mexico's David Iglesias. "I've never seen this done before," an OSC investigator told me today, referring to the scale of the investigation. "I think this is a first." He told me, however, that questions remain about whether the agency has the "legal authority to look to the depth that he says we're going to look. I haven't a clue whether we do or not. But I'm sure that will be tested."

In an ironic twist, Bloch is the first OSC chief to face a whistleblower complaint of his own, one filed by a group of career OSC staffers who allege, among other things, that he engaged in the very retaliatory practices his agency is charged with investigating. In connection with this, Bloch has been the subject of an ongoing investigation by the Office of Personnel Management's inspector general that has been in the works for well over a year. Judging from my conversations with current and former OSC employees, OPM investigators are likely getting an earful. "Everybody that I talk to is incredibly unhappy and just waiting until [Bloch] heads out," one senior OSC staffer told me not long ago. "Everyone has the same feeling that he's just destroyed the agency."

Despite the controversy that has surrounded Bloch during his time at OSC, it's possible the hallmark of his tenure could be the high-stakes case he's currently pursuing—an investigation that may have been prompted, in part, by Iglesias. One of eight U.S. Attorneys forced out by the Justice Department under dubious circumstances, he filed two separate complaints with the office in early April, one of them alleging violations of the Hatch Act—a law that prohibits federal employees from engaging in political activity on the job—by administration officials, including Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, Gonzales' former chief of staff Kyle Sampson, and Monica Goodling, once the Justice Department's White House liaison.

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