Office of Special Counsel Investigates Rove

WASHINGTON — Most of the time, an obscure federal investigative unit known as the Office of Special Counsel confines itself to monitoring the activities of relatively low-level government employees, stepping in with reprimands and other routine administrative actions for such offenses as discriminating against military personnel or engaging in prohibited political activities.

But the Office of Special Counsel is preparing to jump into one of the most sensitive and potentially explosive issues in Washington, launching a broad investigation into key elements of the White House political operations that for more than six years have been headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.

The new investigation, which will examine the firing of at least one U.S. attorney, missing White House e-mails, and White House efforts to keep presidential appointees attuned to Republican political priorities, could create a substantial new problem for the Bush White House.

First, the inquiry comes from inside the administration, not from Democrats in Congress. Second, unlike the splintered inquiries being pressed on Capitol Hill, it is expected to be a unified investigation covering many facets of the political operation in which Rove played a leading part.

“We will take the evidence where it leads us,” Scott J. Bloch, head of the Office of Special Counsel and a presidential appointee, said in an interview Monday. “We will not leave any stone unturned.”

Bloch declined to comment on who his investigators would interview, but he said the probe would be independent and uncoordinated with any other agency or government entity.

The decision by Bloch’s office is the latest evidence that Rove’s once-vaunted operations inside the government, which helped the GOP hold the White House and Congress for six years, now threaten to mire the administration in investigations.

The question of improper political influence over government decision-making is at the heart of the controversy over the firing of U.S. attorneys and the ongoing congressional investigation of the special e-mail system installed in the White House and other government offices by the Republican National Committee.

All administrations are political, but this White House has systematically brought electoral concerns to Cabinet agencies in a way unseen previously.

For example, Rove and his top aides met each year with presidential appointees throughout the government, using PowerPoint presentations to review polling data and describe high-priority congressional and other campaigns around the country.

Some officials have said they understood that they were expected to seek opportunities to help Republicans in these races, through federal grants, policy decisions or in other ways.

if only it could be legit

If that assessment is correct I should be slapping myself in the face for falling for this and I suspect it probably is.

Odds on the outcome?

They will “investigate” the issue for a month or so and then announce that they could find no evidence of any wrongdoing. The investigation will become a key administration talking point that they will use as proof that Congress’ inquiries into this matter are nothing more than political grandstanding–just a bunch of Democrats hammering on an issue that has already been thoroughly investigated and put to bed.

being an optimist, i think the whole thing blows up in their face and a another can of worms called the current “office of special counsel” is opened.

This is priceless:

At the OSC, Scott Bloch is supposed to protect whistleblowers. But he’s been charged with reprising against those who challenge his agency and others. Before Bloch was appointed by Bush to take over the OSC, he was a deputy director and counsel at the Justice Department’s Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives.

“By most measures, his tenure has been an absolute failure,” says Adam Miles, legislative representative at the Government Accountability Project. “He’s been under pressure to start doing something.” Miles notes that GAP did not initially expect the complaint it filed against Bloch in 2005 to go anywhere. “It was referred to a federal entity called the President’s Council on Integrity and Efficiency,” Miles recalls, “and we thought it would just rot there.” But the case was handed to Pat McFarland, the inspector general for the Office of Personnel Management. McFarland is a former St. Louis detective who spent 22 years as a Secret Service agent before becoming IG at OPM in 1990.

On CNN, Ed Henry discussed the possible ramifications for Karl Rove and others in the White House.

"HENRY: Well, what’s interesting, Scott Bloch acknowledges he can’t prosecute any White House aides. He can’t really do anything like that. And he can’t actually admonish them.

"But what he can do, at the end of his investigation, is formally write a letter to the president urging him to take any kind of corrective action against an employee like Rove. It could be urging the president to fire an employee or to suspend an employee.

“So, though, the bottom line is that this is not going to lead to a prosecution or anything like that, even if wrongdoing is proven. All it really is is another political headache for this White House at a time when it doesn’t need another headache. And the fact that it’s coming from a Republican appointed by this president, not a Democrat, is a problem.”

But moment later, Jack Cafferty had this to say: "One of Bush’s guys is going to set out to do what, take down his boys?

“What, are you kidding me? That’s like letting Charlie Manson conduct his own murder investigation.”

I heard something close to the following theory floated by somebody on “Countdown” last night (forgive me if it’s already buried in one of the articles linked): the investigation exists mainly to allow the Whitehouse not to have to comment about this issue anymore. As in, “We really can’t comment about an ongoing investigation.” You know, the mantra that drove them through the Plame Scandal.

If this has any truth to it, there is a certain twisted cleverness to such an action, even if it is disgusting. “We don’t want to talk about this, so we’ll just launch our own investigation and say we asked ourselves not to talk about it because it would ruin the investigation.”

They must have The Prince printed on their eyelids over there.

“Hi. You’re going to call off your rigorous investigation. You’re going to publicly state that there is no underground group. Or…these guys are going to take your balls. They’re going to send one to the New York Times, one to the LA Times…press-release style.”


White House officials conducted 20 private briefings on Republican electoral prospects in the last midterm election for senior officials in at least 15 government agencies covered by federal restrictions on partisan political activity, a White House spokesman and other administration officials said yesterday.

The previously undisclosed briefings were part of what now appears to be a regular effort in which the White House sent senior political officials to brief top appointees in government agencies on which seats Republican candidates might win or lose, and how the election outcomes could affect the success of administration policies, the officials said.

The existence of one such briefing, at the headquarters of the General Services Administration in January, came to light last month, and the Office of Special Counsel began an investigation into whether the officials at the briefing felt coerced into steering federal activities to favor those Republican candidates cited as vulnerable.

Such coercion is prohibited under a federal law, known as the Hatch Act, meant to insulate virtually all federal workers from partisan politics. In addition to forbidding workplace pressures meant to influence an election outcome, the law bars the use of federal resources – including office buildings, phones and computers – for partisan purposes.

The administration maintains that the previously undisclosed meetings were appropriate. Those discussing the briefings on the record yesterday uniformly described them as merely “informational briefings about the political landscape.” But House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Henry A. Waxman (D-Calif.), who has been investigating the GSA briefing, said, “Politicization of departments and agencies is a serious issue. We need to know more about these and other briefings.”

In the GSA briefing – conducted like all the others by a deputy to chief White House political adviser Karl Rove – two slides were presented showing 20 House Democrats targeted for defeat and several dozen vulnerable Republicans.

At its completion, GSA Administrator Lurita Alexis Doan asked how GSA projects could be used to help “our candidates,” according to half a dozen witnesses. The briefer, J. Scott Jennings, said that topic should be discussed “off-line,” the witnesses said. Doan then replied, “Oh, good, at least as long as we are going to follow up,” according to an account given by former GSA chief acquisition officer Emily Murphy to House investigators, according to a copy of the transcript.

“Something was going to take place potentially afterwards” regarding Doan’s request, GSA deputy director of communications Jennifer Millikin told investigators she concluded at the time.

By the end of yesterday afternoon, all of those describing the briefings on the record had adopted a uniform phrase in response to a reporter’s inquiries: They were, each official said, “informational briefings about the political landscape.”

Scott J. Bloch, director of the Office of Special Counsel, alluded to the multiple briefings in an interview Monday, saying that “we have had allegations” and “received information” about similar talks that were held elsewhere besides GSA.

“Political forecasts, just generally . . . I do not regard as illegal political activity,” Bloch added. But he said his office would examine whether it was appropriate to use federal facilities or resources as well as review exactly what was said. “Where you cross the line is where you get into the slant of someone being elected or defeated” or trying to get a political party into or out of power, he said.

Nearly two dozen federal agents yesterday raided the Washington headquarters of the agency that protects government whistle-blowers, as part of an intensifying criminal investigation of its leader, who is fighting allegations of improper political bias and obstruction of justice.

Agents fanned out yesterday morning in the agency’s building on M Street, where they sequestered Office of Special Counsel chief Scott J. Bloch for questioning, served grand-jury subpoenas on 17 employees and shut down access to computer networks in a search lasting more than five hours.

Bloch, who was nominated to his post by President Bush in 2003, is the principal official responsible for protecting federal employees from reprisals for complaints about waste and fraud. He also polices violations of Hatch Act prohibitions on political activities in federal offices.

See also “RNC Secret Chimps” thread for more on the “Geeks on Call” incident:

Who watches the watchman that watches the watchman that watches the watchman that watches the watchman…

The more power Washington has, the worse it will get.