Thursday, November 29, 2007
You just can't make some of this stuff up, even if you tried to while writing a final examination. The head of the Office of Special Counsel, Scott Bloch, is purportedly leading the investigation of improper political briefings at agencies and alleged misuse of government resources to support Republican candidates by White House aides, including former senior adviser Karl Rove. According to its website, the OSC "is an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency. Our basic authorities come from three federal statutes, the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act, and the Hatch Act." To call OSC obscure, at least in the pantheon of Washington D.C. offices involved in high-profile investigations, is an understatement. A Wall Street Journal article (here) gives us the Felliniesque specter of Bloch possibly destroying files, or dare we say e-mails, from computers in his office while being investigated himself by the IG of the Office of Personnel Management for allegedly retaliating against staffers and dismissing whistleblower complaints improperly. Not exactly something to inspire confidence.
According to the Journal, Bloch brought in a computer technician from "Geeks on Call" -- surely a fun bunch -- to eradicate a virus on his computer. He apparently didn't bother to contact OSC's tech department. What the Geeks did was conduct a so-called "seven-level wipe" which gets rid of virtually everything on the computer, making it impossible to reconstruct files. As the article notes, that's not the usual way to get rid of a virus, and in addition to his computer, Bloch had the computers of his two top political deputies who had recently left OSC wiped clean too. I'm not aware of many computer viruses that only invade the computers of the head of an office and two top deputies, but then this computer stuff is beyond me. We all know how much trouble e-mails can cause, because for some reason people seem to think that when they hit "send" -- or "delete" -- the message no longer exists. Using an outside service to wipe clean the hard drive is perhaps equally questionable, but whether there was anything suspicious, or even incriminating, on the hard drives of the computers will likely remain a mystery. Thus, that old D.C. favorite: plausible deniability.
Whether the OSC's investigation of possible Hatch Act violations goes anywhere is certainly an open question, and there may not be much hope that any recommendation from Bloch will be noticed. With Rove gone from the government, he is outside OSC's jurisdiction. The Journal notes that Bloch recommended disciplinary action against another federal official for a Hatch Act violation related to the political briefings, but to this point the recommendation has not been acted on by the White House. Would "ignored" be a better word? (ph)