White House Political Office Subject of Probe The federal Office of Special Counsel will investigate the White House political office run by key Bush adviser Karl Rove. The agency is examining whether White House officials acted improperly in the firing of federal prosecutor David Iglesias of New Mexico.
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White House Political Office Subject of Probe

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White House Political Office Subject of Probe


White House Political Office Subject of Probe

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It's MORNING EDITION from NPR News. Good morning. I'm Steve Inskeep.

The many investigations of the Bush administration include one led by this man.

Mr. SCOTT BLOCH (Special Counsel, U.S. Office of Special Counsel): I'm Scott Bloch, the special counsel with the United States Office of Special Counsel. I was confirmed by the U.S. Senate at the end of 2003 and have been in this position since the beginning of 2004.

INSKEEP: Scott Bloch's federal agency does not make news often, but now the Office of Special Counsel has opened an investigation into the White House political office and its chief, Karl Rove.

The agency is examining whether White House officials acted improperly when they fired one U.S. attorney, David Iglesias of New Mexico. Scott Bloch's office is also looking at whether White House officials were promoting Republican candidates on government time, which cold be illegal.

NPR White House correspondent David Greene is tracking this investigation and joins us. David, good morning.

DAVID GREENE: Good morning, Steve.

INSKEEP: I have to ask about the Office of Special Counsel. One of those great job titles like NPR's intelligence correspondent or justice reporter. What do they do? What's their power?

GREENE: Yeah, you don't hear a lot from them, but they're a very small agency. They're about 106 employees, and they're often doing work quietly protecting employees from political pressure, protect whistleblowers, and they started looking at a few of these cases some weeks ago. They started looking at the case of David Iglesias, and separately more than a month ago Scott Bloch said he got a complaint about this PowerPoint presentation given by one of Karl Rove's aides at what sort of seems like a political pep rally from employees at the General Services Administration.

INSKEEP: And why are we finding out about their interest now?

GREENE: Well, what Bloch said is he's starting to connect some dots, and he has enough from those two inquiries to believe he needs to go much deeper into this question. Is the White House political team doing political work on government time? And Bloch does have subpoena power, and here's a little of what he had to say to me yesterday.

Mr. BLOCH: We anticipate full cooperation in our investigations, as we always do, and we hope to get cooperation of all witnesses and document productions without the need to actually enforce a subpoena. But we're perfectly willing to use those powers if necessary. We're going to ask the White House for cooperation and we anticipate receiving it.

INSKEEP: So could laws have been broken here, David Greene?

GREENE: Well, it depends. He's looking at a few laws. One is responsible for, Scott Bloch is responsible for is the Hatch Act, which prohibits political work using taxpayer money. The White House has said it did not violate this act, but Bloch is taking a look at, among other things, some of the e-mails sent by White House aides involving the firing of U.S. attorneys.

And now there's a separate law that he's looking at which prohibits a government employee from losing his job because he or she was away doing military service. Iglesias is in the Navy Reserve. The Justice Department has said that's not a reason he lost his job. But Bloch says that if he finds it was, he could go as far as reinstating Iglesias, and that would a big deal, if this small agency said the President Bush you decided to remove this federal prosecutor - well, we're putting him back.

INSKEEP: So what could this agency do if it finds wrongdoing?

GREENE: It depends. They can push for disciplinary action, they could push for the removal of some employees, they could recommend that President Bush remove someone, and Bloch also has the power, if laws were broken at some point, to go to federal court.

INSKEEP: And what are White House officials telling you about this investigation?

GREENE: Not much so far. They haven't offered any public response. Bloch's office contacted the White House yesterday. The White House says it's in the process of getting back to him and we'll see. For now this seems like a headache mostly because it is not a congressional committee led by Democrats. This is an independent agency. But who knows? If the investigation turns up nothing, you could see the White House pointing to it and saying, look, there was nothing here anyway to look at from the beginning.

INSKEEP: Why do think Scott Bloch now is investigating the Bush administration and the president, in effect, who appointed him?

GREENE: Well, he says it's his job to keep politics out of government and that he's following that. This guy has rarely made news. When he has, it hasn't been good. He's been investigated himself many times even for the treatment of his own employees. And when I asked him about that, he said that's just part of the job in Washington; you're investigated and you get criticism.

INSKEEP: David, thanks very much.

GREENE: Thank you Steve.

INSKEEP: That's NPR White House correspondent David Greene.

Now, we're learning about that investigation in the same week that lawmakers granted immunity to a former Justice Department official. They want Monica Goodling to testify about the firing of U.S. attorneys. And Congress has voted for a subpoena to be sent to Condoleezza Rice, the secretary of state. Lawmakers voted to compel her testimony about pre-war intelligence on Iraq. The White House may resist.

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