FBI Raids Office of Special Counsel

FBI agents on Tuesday raided the Office of the Special Counsel, the agency that investigates whistleblower and discrimination complaints by federal employees. The FBI is examining allegations of political misconduct by agency employees.

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MICHELE NORRIS, host:

This is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Michele Norris.

MELISSA BLOCK, host:

And I'm Melissa Block.

There is a dramatic development today in the probe of the U.S. Special Counsel. This morning, the FBI unexpectedly raided the Special Counsel offices in Washington and Dallas. That office is in charge of investigating whistle-blower claims by Federal employees. The Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, has been under investigation for allegedly abusing his power. And today, it all came to a head.

NPR's Ari Shapiro is here to describe what happened. And for our story, let's have a little background. Scott Bloch - no relation, I should say - has been under investigation for a couple of year. Why is the investigator being investigated?

ARI SHAPIRO: Well, he was very controversial from the very beginning. He took office in 2004, and one of his first actions was to say that he was not going to investigate claims of discrimination by Federal employees. He said that they were discriminated against on the basis of their sexual orientation. That caused a huge outcry, and Bloch blames some career employees in his office for getting that story out there, and so he allegedly tried to retaliate against them. Over time, he was accused of favoring his personal and political allies, he was accused of dismissing many whistle-blowers can't claims without reason. And in fact, many whistle-blower groups called on the president to fire Scott Bloch. Finally, those groups persuaded the White House to ask the Office of Personnel Management Inspector General to open an investigation into Scott Bloch. And as that investigation proceeded, Scott hired a company called Geeks on Call to purge some stuff from his computers. Now, he says he was just purging a virus, but investigators suspected he may have been purging evidence, which lead, of course, to a question of if there's obstruction of justice here?

NORRIS: What happened with these raids this morning, Ari?

SHAPIRO: Well, it started as a normal day at the Office of Special Counsel, and then around 10:00 AM, everybody's computer was shut down. And then, in Washington, about half a dozen FBI agents arrived. People were totally surprised by this. By 1:00 PM, there were 20 agents, and they seized computers, they seized documents, they apparently sequestered Scott Bloch in one room of to the side. And at the same time, a grand jury issued subpoenas for some Offices of Special Counsel employees to come testify. Now, while FBI agents were searching the office in Washington and Dallas, there was a separate search warrant issued for Scott Bloch's home, and the D.C. suburb of Alexandria, Virginia. And now earlier today, I spoke with - an attorney who represents some of the career employees that I've mentioned, and I asked her based on her conversations to describe what the scene was like in the office this morning. Here's what she said.

Ms. DEBRA KATZ (Attorney): Well, there's a pandemonium in that office. Obviously, it's very unsettling to begin the day and have the FBI show up and see these computer files and computers and documents, but I think that there has been a general concern from people in that office that Mr. Bloch has engaged in criminal misconduct and he needs to answer for it.

SHAPIRO: I should mention that was attorney Debra Katz who represents some of these employees.

NORRIS: Now, Ari, in these raids, what are the FBI agents looking for?

SHAPIRO: Well, the search warrants said, obstruction of justice, so that's a big clue. That points perhaps to the Geeks on Call hiring that I mentioned.

NORRIS: They document purge.

SHAPIRO: Right. But it's a broad statute that could encompass all sorts of questions about abuse of power, politicization, perhaps question of whether he violated the Hatch Act, that's a law that prohibits Federal government's employees from using their offices for partisan political campaign activity.

NORRIS: Scott Bloch has not been charged with a crime yet. Has he had any response today to these raids?

SHAPIRO: No, and that's one of the strange things about this story is that really nobody is saying anything. Bloch has not commented, his attorneys haven't commented. The Justice Department has said nothing, the FBI - late in the afternoon put a very vague comment saying almost nothing, and the whistleblower groups that I mentioned have called on President Bush to fire Scott Bloch for years now. I called the White House this afternoon, asked if they had any response and a spokesman there said, we are not commenting on this.

BLOCK: Computers back on at the Office of Special Counsel?

SHAPIRO: As far as we know, if not now, then soon.

BLOCK: Okay Ari, thanks so much.

SHAPIRO: You're welcome.

BLOCK: That's NPR's Ari Shapiro.

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FBI Raids Special Counsel Office, Seizes Records

Scott Bloch has been special counsel since 2004. i i

Scott Bloch has been special counsel since 2004. U.S. Office of Special Counsel hide caption

itoggle caption U.S. Office of Special Counsel
Scott Bloch has been special counsel since 2004.

Scott Bloch has been special counsel since 2004.

U.S. Office of Special Counsel

FBI agents on Tuesday raided the offices of Special Counsel Scott J. Bloch, who oversees protection for federal whistle-blowers. The agents seized computers and shut down e-mail service as part of an obstruction of justice probe, as first reported by NPR News.

A grand jury in Washington issued subpoenas for several OSC employees, including Bloch, according to NPR sources who spoke on condition their names not be used. Bloch's home was also searched.

Those developments came about on a Tuesday morning that had seemed no different from any other weekday in the Washington headquarters of the Office of Special Counsel. But at 10 a.m., the OSC's national e-mail system went down, and the FBI arrived.

A half-dozen FBI agents swarmed into the OSC's Washington offices, grabbing documents and seizing computers. By 1 p.m., more than 20 agents had arrived in the agency's D.C. bureau.

One official close to the investigation said that today's action was "significant" and that other field offices would also be included in the investigation.

The focus of the probe appears to be Special Counsel Bloch, who was appointed by President Bush in 2004. Bloch has been a controversial figure ever since taking over the Office of Special Counsel, which, among other things, ensures that federal whistle-blowers get the protection they need.

One of Bloch's first official actions was to refuse to investigate any claims of discrimination based on sexual orientation. When the news of his refusal was leaked to the press, career employees in his office say, Bloch blamed them for the leak. He retaliated, the employees said, by creating a new field office in Detroit and forcing them either to accept assignments there or resign.

This morning, FBI agents in Washington took Bloch into a separate room at OSC to interview him, while additional investigators searched his office. They also arrived at his home in Alexandria, Va., with a search warrant.

The Office of Personnel Management's inspector general has been looking into allegations that Bloch retaliated against career employees and obstructed an investigation. Sources close to the probe said the FBI's raid this morning was related to work the inspector general had already done.

In addition to concerns about obstruction of justice, investigators are also looking into whether Bloch violated the Hatch Act, a congressional mandate that prohibits employees from using their offices for partisan political purposes.

Bloch has admitted to hiring Geeks on Call — a computer servicing company — to purge his computer and two of his deputies' computers, sources said. But he said the computers contained a virus, which necessitated a purge. Investigators are looking into whether the purge was meant to destroy evidence related to the current investigation.

OSC employees for months have called on President Bush to ask for Bloch's resignation. The White House today declined to comment on the developments, as did Bloch's lawyers and the FBI.

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