WASHINGTON — FBI agents investigating government watchdog Scott Bloch have subpoenaed any records that would reveal whether concerns about the 2004 elections prompted him to clear Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice of ethics violations.
Bloch, the U.S. special counsel who investigates federal employee whistleblower complaints, found no merit to allegations that Rice, then President Bush's national security adviser, timed some of her trips to boost Bush's 2004 reelection campaign.
The FBI is investigating whether Bloch obstructed justice by destroying computer files to hinder an outside inquiry into allegations that he retaliated against employees who opposed his policies. He's also suspected of making false statements to investigators.
FBI agents, who searched Bloch's office and home Tuesday, subpoenaed 17 of his current and former employees to appear before a federal grand jury and asked them to bring any documents related to possible tampering of records in the office's electronic investigative tracking system, McClatchy has learned.
Officials with knowledge of the investigation also told McClatchy that the FBI has subpoenaed records about the decision to assign Rice's case to an investigator. The officials asked to remain anonymous because they weren't authorized to discuss the investigation.
It's unclear whether the FBI is looking into Bloch's decision to clear Rice or whether agents are seeking evidence in separate obstruction and false-statements investigation.
State Department spokesman Tom Casey said the department had no comment and referred questions to the FBI. White House said they couldn't discuss a personnel matter, and FBI officials also declined to comment.
Bloch, whose lawyer also didn't return calls, has denied any wrongdoing. Bloch has said that he paid an outside company, Geeks on Call, about $1,100 in taxpayer money in 2006 to move files from his work computer.
He said that he feared a virus had contaminated his computer. As a result, he said, he 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.
The investigation is the latest in a series of controversies involving Bloch, a Bush appointee whom independent watchdog groups have criticized since he took office in 2004.
The agents who searched his home for more than six hours and seized several computers also sought documents connected to Bloch's investigation of former General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan. Doan announced her resignation last week, almost a year after Bloch concluded that she'd violated the Hatch Act, which limits government employees' political activities.
Rep. Tom Davis, R-Va., one of Bloch's frequent critics, called Wednesday for Bloch to resign.
"The White House asked Lurita Doan to step down as head of the General Services Administration because, they said, she had become a distraction," said Davis. "In light of the various investigations into Mr. Bloch's conduct, including the FBI probe revealed yesterday, it's hard to believe he can continue to operate effectively."
In 2005, the inspector general of the Office of Personnel Management began looking into Bloch's alleged retaliation against employees. Several employees also accused him of ignoring complaints by federal workers who said they were discriminated against because of their sexual orientation.
The FBI has confirmed that investigators from the inspector general's office took part in the searches. A lawyer who represents the employees didn't return calls.
The Project on Government Oversight (POGO), an independent Washington watchdog group, accused Bloch of conducting "stunningly broad fishing expeditions" to create a false impression that he was being scrutinized only because of his aggressive investigations.
The group released an internal Special Counsel document it obtained that the group said proved its contention.
In the draft document, dated Jan. 18, 2008, members of a Special Counsel task force described their 11 wide-ranging inquiries, including examinations of Bush administration political briefings and the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.
In one case, the task force asked Bloch to allow them to narrow their investigation, but Bloch ordered them to broaden it.
After Justice Department officials testified about weighing job applicants' political affiliations during hiring, task force members recommended that a case be opened.
Bloch initially denied their request, only to allow an investigation months later without dedicating resources to it, the document said.
Bloch's office is investigating whether political briefings by former White House political adviser Karl Rove and others to at least 15 agencies violated a ban on the use of government resources for campaign activities.
The internal Special Council document obtained by the Project on Government Oversight is available at: