In interviews yesterday with reporters, Scott J. Bloch disclosed that his Office of Special Counsel was opening a broad probe of the White House political office and its interaction with government agencies. The investigation will cover the use of private e-mail accounts by White House aides, the firing of at least one U.S. attorney and presentations of political data by White House aides to other officials in government, Bloch told the Los Angeles Times and the Washington Post.
But government watchdogs have accused Bloch himself of similar behavior. In April 2005, they and others complained the White House appointee had allowed his office to "sit on" a complaint that then-White House National Security Adviser Condoleezza Rice used government funds to travel in support of President Bush's re-election bid.
By contrast, they said, Bloch ordered an immediate on-site investigation of a complaint that Bush's challenger for the White House, Sen. John Kerry, D-Mass., improperly campaigned in a government workplace, which had been filed around the same time.
Bloch's obscure but important office investigates violations of a law banning the use of public resources for partisan political purposes, known as the Hatch Act. In January, his office said Kerry did not violate the act. It has made no statement on the Rice complaint. Bloch's office has called the allegation "old and previously addressed."
In late 2005, the White House-run President's Committee on Integrity and Efficiency opened an investigation into that charge and several others, including accusations that Bloch's office retaliated against employees who took issue with internal policies and discriminated against employees who were gay or members of religious minorities. The investigation is pending.
Those charges led the left-leaning group Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington to charge that Bloch is "the wrong choice" to investigate. In addition to probing Hatch Act violations, OSC is also responsible for defending the rights of government whistle-blowers and protecting government employees from discrimination and other prohibited practices.
"I don't have any hopes for the investigation. It's been our experience that Scott Bloch is someone who gives opportunism a bad name," said Jeff Ruch, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER). His group has represented whistle-blowers who have struggled with Bloch's office.
Ruch's group and others have called on Bloch to resign, including several Democratic lawmakers and the Log Cabin Republicans, which represents gay and lesbian Republicans, have also asked Bloch to step down. Conservative publications have reported that even the White House has asked him to resign; an OSC spokesman told ABC News today he didn't "know of any truth to that at all."
"I think Bloch is in fact in trouble politically," Washington, D.C. lawyer Debra Katz told ABC News. Katz represents several whistle-blowers and former employees who have complained about Bloch. "If the [investigation into Bloch] concludes he engaged in misconduct, I think he would attempt to vigorously equate his work" against the White House with any effort to drive him from office, Katz said. Ruch and others concurred.
OSC spokesman Jim Mitchell denied that charge. "The reason we're doing this is that there's no one else in the executive branch who can investigate the Hatch Act," Mitchell told ABC News. "It has nothing to do with him being under investigation. It has to do with doing the job we're supposed to do."
This post has been revised.