Official probing Rove now under investigation himself
The federal official helming a probe into potentially illegal partisan political activities conducted by Karl Rove and other White House officials is himself the focus of a federal investigation.
Scott Bloch, the Bush-appointed head of the US Office of Special Counsel, is under investigation for the alleged improper deletion of emails on office computers, The Wall Street Journal's John R. Wilke reports.
"Recently, investigators learned that Mr. Bloch erased all the files on his office personal computer late last year," writes Wilke. "They are now trying to determine whether the deletions were improper or part of a cover-up, lawyers close to the case said." The inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management is examining the case at the urging of the White House.
The Special Counsel is also under scrutiny for claims that he used his position to retaliate against other employees, and that he "dismissed whistleblower cases without adequate examination." Investigation began in that case in 2005.
The Journal reports that Bloch called the tech support service Geeks on Call for help deleting computer files instead of using his agency's own in-house computer technicians. That company "dispatched a technician in one of its signature PT Cruiser wagons," according to Wilke, who adds that Bloch confirms contacting Geeks on Call but maintains it was part of an effort to "eradicate a virus that had seized control of his computer."
"Mr. Bloch had his computer's hard disk completely cleansed using a 'seven-level' wipe: a thorough scrubbing that conforms to Defense Department data-security standards," the report continues, describing a process which makes it "nearly impossible for forensics experts to restore the data later. Technicians were also directed to erase laptops used by Bloch's former political deputies, Wilke adds.
"Geeks on Call visited Mr. Bloch's government office in a nondescript office building on M Street in Washington twice, on Dec. 18 and Dec. 21, 2006," according the paper's review of a company receipt. "The total charge was $1,149, paid with an agency credit card, the receipt shows. The receipt says a seven-level wipe was performed but doesn't mention any computer virus."
The manager of the Geeks on Call franchise involved told the Journal that the so-called seven-level wipe was not a typical remedy for a computer virus. "We don't do a seven-level wipe for a virus," he said.
But Bloch told the Journal that no documents in connection to an investigation had been destroyed. "He also says the employee claims against him are unwarranted," according to the paper. "Mr. Bloch believes the White House may have a conflict of interest in pressing the inquiry into his conduct while his office investigates the White House political operation."
The Office of Special Counsel, which Bloch has headed since 2004, is tasked with enforcing the Hatch Act, a law enacted in 1939 to prohibit public employees from engaging in partisan political activity.
That organization's investigation into Rove and other White House officials, launched earlier this year, ironically includes a probe of missing emails. The Office of Special Counsel is examining "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," according to the Los Angeles Times.
"We will take the evidence where it leads us," Bloch told the Times in April. "We will not leave any stone unturned."
Earlier this month, a federal judge ordered the White House to save all of its emails in response to lawsuits from two private organizations, Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Government, and The National Security Archive. The groups allege that as many as five million White House emails are missing.
Read the full article in the Wall Street Journal (subscription required).