FBI agents sweep office, home of government watchdog

WASHINGTON — FBI agents on Tuesday searched the home and office of a federal watchdog as part of an investigation into whether he obstructed an inquiry into allegations of his own misconduct.

About 20 agents seized documents and computers from the office and Virginia home of U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch, said officials familiar with the investigation.

Several of his employees have been subpoenaed to appear before a federal grand jury as early as next week, according to the officials, who asked to remain anonymous because they weren't authorized to comment.

Agents are looking into whether Bloch deleted his agency's computer files to hinder an outside investigation of his treatment of employees, the officials said. Bloch, appointed in 2004, investigates allegations of retaliation and ethics violations by federal employees.

One official said agents, who conducted their search for more than six hours, also sought documents connected to Bloch's investigation of former General Services Administrator Lurita Doan. Doan announced her resignation last week — almost a year after Bloch concluded that Doan had violated the Hatch Act, which limits the political activities of government employees.

Since assuming office, Bloch has triggered controversy over his scrutiny of ethical wrongdoing by others and over his conduct.

In 2005, the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management began looking into whether Bloch retaliated against employees who opposed his policies. A group of employees also accused him of ignoring complaints from federal workers who alleged discrimination because of sexual orientation. A lawyer who represents the employees didn't immediately return calls.

Bloch, who also couldn't be reached for comment, has denied any wrongdoing and has said he paid an outside company, Geeks on Call, about $1,100 in 2006 to move files from his work computer. He said he feared a virus had contaminated his computer. He said he then instructed technicians to erase the hard drives of his computers and those of two former employees, but said he kept copies of the deleted files.

Bloch's office is investigating whether political briefings by former White House adviser Karl Rove and others to at least 15 agencies violated a ban on the use of government resources for campaign activities. The allegations against Doan surfaced after a congressional inquiry into such briefings.

Witnesses told investigators that Doan asked participants in January 2007 what the GSA could do to help GOP candidates. Doan has said she doesn't recall that remark. She also has denied that her resignation was connected to Bloch's conclusions, although she confirmed that the White House had asked her to step down.

Under the Hatch Act, Cabinet members are permitted to attend political briefings and appear with members of Congress. But Cabinet members and other political appointees aren't permitted to spend taxpayer money to benefit candidates.

FBI agent Richard Kolko declined to comment on Tuesday's searches, other than to say they were conducted by the FBI and the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management.

James Mitchell, a spokesman for Bloch's office, said employees were cooperating with agents, adding: "We do not yet know what this is about. We are continuing to perform the independent mission of this office."