A former Bush administration official who headed an obscure office within the White House that protects whistleblowers and enforces anti-discrimination laws was charged Thursday with criminal contempt of Congress.
Scott Bloch, director of the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) from 2004 to 2008, withheld "pertinent" information from the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee , which had been investigating allegations he abused his position and destroyed evidence, according to court papers filed in US District Court in Washington, DC.
Bloch failed to answer truthfully questions raised by Congressional investigators about why he hired the private computer company, Geeks on Call, to "scrub" his office computer and the computers of two OSC employees during the height of an investigation into allegations he retaliated against employees and dismissed whistleblower cases without fully examining them.
"On or about December 6, 2007, in the District of Columbia and elsewhere, the United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform ("House Oversight Committee"), requested that defendant Bloch provide a transcribed interview regarding his reported use of the private computer repair company Geeks On Call to delete files on OSC-issued computers in or about December of 2006 using a process known as a 'seven level wipe,'" according to a two-page court filing known as an "information," which is released publicly when a person under investigation is about to plead guilty to charges.
Bloch told Congressional investigators he had no intention of destroying governmental information from the computers. Rather, he told The Wall Street Journal in an interview three years ago that he called private computer technicians to his office on December 18 and December 21, 2006 because he was trying to "eradicate a virus that had seized control of his computer."
A receipt reviewed by the Journal said "the total charge was $1,149," which Bloch paid for using his government credit card. But the receipt didn't mention a computer virus.
According to Thursday's court filing, federal prosecutors did not believe Bloch's story and concluded that he "unlawfully and willfully did make default by refusing and failing to state fully and completely the nature and extent of his instructions that Geeks On Call perform 'seven level wipes' on his OSC-issued computers as well as the OSC-issued computers of two non-career OSC appointees in or about December of 2006."
Debra S. Katz, an attorney who represents organizations that provide support to whistleblowers, said she was not satisfied with the outcome of the case.
"After five years of obstructing this investigation, destroying evidence and retaliating against his own conscientious employees, he is now going to be permitted to plead guilty to one misdemeanor; that's not sufficient," Katz told The Associated Press. Still, Katz noted, "the inspector general at the Office of Personnel Management - which has been investigating this for five years -will now be in a position to issue its investigative report on Scott Bloch's misconduct."
Federal law enforcement agents raided Bloch's home and office in May 2008 and seized computer files and documents. At the time, he was under investigation by the inspector general in the White House's Office of Personnel Management.
According to a February 2007 report in The Washington Post, Bloch was accused of retaliating "against underlings who disagreed with his policies - by, among other means, transferring them out of state - and tossed out legitimate whistle-blower cases to reduce the office backlog."
"Since he took the helm in 2004, staffers at the OSC, a small agency of about 100 lawyers and investigators, have accused him of a range of offenses, from having an anti-gay bias to criticizing employees for wearing short skirts and tight pants to work," the Post reported.
While Bloch was under scrutiny, he had also been handed the task of investigating the role Karl Rove played in the firing of former New Mexico US Attorney David Iglesias, one of nine federal prosecutors fired in December 2006.
Iglesias filed a Hatch Act complaint in April 2007 with Bloch's office, alleging Rove and other top Bush administration officials may have broken the law by orchestrating his firing because he refused to initiate politically motivated prosecutions.
The complaint was dismissed. Bloch was forced to resign in October 2008.
Last September, Talking Points Memo reported that Bloch received a law license in 2008 "after the staff of a DC court didn't notice that he is under criminal investigation by the FBI - and failed to flag that fact to the Committee on Admissions, despite extensive documentation provided by Bloch."
Since Bloch's resignation, the OSC has been without a leader. President Barack Obama has not appointed anyone to head the office, despite a campaign pledge to fill the vacancy with a staunch advocate for whistleblowers' rights.