The Project on Government Oversight is offering harsh criticism of U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch and his recently announced probe into the political activities of key White House officials, most notably Deputy Chief of Staff Karl Rove.
The group describes the investigation as "off to a bumpy start" and something that "looks like it will be toothless" in a release jointly issued with Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility.
Among their key concerns is Bloch's taking on the investigation while a parallel probe into his own activities reaches its late stages. In a letter to White House Counsel Fred Fielding, Debra Katz, an attorney for the two groups, said the investigation against Bloch "compromises his own impartiality" in his investigation of White House officials.
"The impending charges against Mr. Bloch supply him with an incentive to whitewash violations of the law in hopes of currying favor," Katz writes. "On the other hand, were he to make findings of violations, his findings could be viewed as an act of retribution and/or coercion to prevent the president from taking appropriate action against him, which he would surely portray as retaliation."
The groups also raise questions about the legal basis for Bloch's requesting E-mails that White House staffers sent using Republican National Committee accounts. POGO and PEER were among the groups that helped prompt an investigation into Bloch in the first place by issuing complaints of misconduct.
"Ironically, one portion of that complaint," POGO writes in a release out Thursday morning, "concerns Bloch's improper interference with the handling of Hatch Act cases, the very statute that Bloch is now invoking as a basis for looking at White House political briefings." The groups also allege that Bloch has never undertaken an investigation of the magnitude of the one against the White House.
Update: (5:30 p.m. ET) James Mitchell, a spokesman for the Office of the Special Counsel, shot back at Bloch's critics Friday afternoon, saying their criticisms were based on speculation.
"They can talk all they want for the legal basis of us requesting E-mails. For them to judge it is pure guesswork," says communications director James Mitchell. "We feel very strongly here that, with all the smoking rocks we see around this issue ... as the sole agency with jurisdiction over the Hatch Act, we would be derelict if we didn’t do this."
Mitchell, answering to those who contend that the investigation is a coverup for the administration, said the first contact between his office and the White House occurred Thursday, when Bloch met with White House Counsel Fred Fielding, after it had publicly announced the investigation.
--Angie C. Marek and Chris Wilson