Washington, DC — No sooner had the U.S. Office of Special Counsel announced a wide-ranging probe into allegedly improper political activities by White House officials and appointees than the effort has run aground, according to Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER) and the Project On Government Oversight. Further complicating matters, Special Counsel Scott Bloch’s pledge to investigate the White House comes as a White House-commissioned investigation into misconduct charges against Bloch enters its final stage.
Bloch’s plan to combine seemingly unrelated high-profile investigations (the firing of U.S. Attorneys, missing Karl Rove emails and political briefings of General Services Administration managers) has also prompted protests both inside and outside the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Emerging snags include:
- OSC likely does not have jurisdiction over a complaint filed by former U.S. Attorney David Iglesias (a complaint solicited by a Bloch deputy) alleging discrimination on the basis of his service in the Navy Reserve. Presidential appointees who have been confirmed by the Senate are not entitled to claim statutory protection against decisions regarding their continued tenure. In addition, there are profound separation of powers questions about applying statutes to block presidential prerogative to remove his own appointees;
- OSC has only a qualified subpoena power and lacks the authority to enforce its subpoenas in court. If a party simply refuses to comply, OSC must obtain the consent of the General Counsel of the Merits Systems Protection Board, headed by a Bush-appointee, who would then be charged with bringing an enforcement action; and
- The legal basis for an OSC investigation into e-mails from White House staff sent on Republican National Committee accounts as well as OSC’s power to order surrender of the missing missives have not been spelled out.
“It makes no sense for Scott Bloch to investigate the White House while the White House investigates Bloch,” stated PEER Executive Director Jeff Ruch, noting that Bloch has told allies that the White House has twice asked Bloch to resign but Bloch, who is in the midst of a fixed five-year term, can only be removed for cause. “Bloch should recuse himself from this case and hand the matter over either to career staff at OSC or to an outside entity, such as the relevant Inspectors General or Congress.”
The ongoing investigation of Bloch undertaken by the Office of Personnel Management Inspector General at the behest of the President’s Office of Management & Budget comes as a result of a complaint filed by his own staff members and whistleblower groups, including PEER, alleging a host of misconduct charges against Bloch. Ironically, one portion of that complaint concerns Bloch’s improper interference with the handling of Hatch Act cases, the very statute that Bloch is now invoking as the basis for looking a White House political briefings.
“Scott Bloch brings the investigative acumen of an Inspector Clouseau to a very complicated and delicate matter,” Ruch added, noting that Bloch has admitted that he has never undertaken an investigation of this magnitude. “It is not that Bloch has lacked the opportunities to conduct complex investigations since virtually every whistleblower in town goes to the OSC, but Bloch has ignored them all. It is only when a probe serves his political agenda that he latches onto it as if it were the last helicopter leaving Saigon.”
Look at media reports about attempts by the Bush White House to remove Bloch