Rove Is at Center of New Legal Probe
As if the Bush administration did not have enough on its hands batting off the investigations triggered by Democrats in Congress over the controversial firings of eight U.S. attorneys, now one of President Bush's own appointees has launched a potentially explosive investigation not only into the prosecutor firings but also a broader probe into the White House's entire political operations network headed by chief strategist Karl Rove.
Scott Bloch heads a little-known federal entity called the Office of Special Counsel, which resolves employment discrimination complaints regarding military personnel or lower-level government employees. Bloch, an expert in employment law, was nominated by Bush in June 2003 and confirmed as special counsel that December to a five-year term.
He became involved in the U.S. attorney firings in part because of two complaints filed this month by David Iglesias, the U.S. attorney for New Mexico, who was one of the eight prosecutors fired. Iglesias believes it's because the Bush administration and two Republican lawmakers from New Mexico, Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, thought he was not acting aggressively enough to prosecute public corruption cases involving politically connected Democrats before the November 2006 election. Domenici has admitted calling Iglesias to inquire about the status of a public corruption case and complaining about Iglesias's performance to senior Justice Department officials. But he has denied any improper motives.
Iglesias, a U.S. Navy Reserve captain, filed a complaint to Bloch's office under the Uniformed Services Employment and Re-employment Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination against individuals because of their service in the armed forces reserve, the National Guard, or other uniformed services. In a Justice Department internal E-mail justifying the eight dismissals, Iglesias, who spent an estimated 40 to 45 days a year on military duty, was described as an "absentee landlord."
Iglesias wants Bloch to determine whether his military service led to his dismissal.
Separately, Iglesias also has filed a complaint under the Hatch Act, which restricts the political activities of executive-branch employees. Bloch wants to determine whether anyone in the Bush administration who falls under the purview of the act tried to improperly use authority to influence the outcome of the November elections.
"We are not going to leave any stone unturned," Bloch told U.S. News.
Bloch says he briefly interviewed Iglesias about the dismissal and will soon schedule more debriefings. Bloch also may reach out to Domenici, Wilson, and their staffs, as well as to others both in Congress and the administration who can shed light on the firing.
In a related matter, Bloch also is investigating the perplexing saga of four years' worth of missing E-mails from Rove that were on the Republican National Committee server. And he is investigating whether White House political staff tried to subvert the government decision-making process by regularly briefing presidential appointees on polling data, with a special focus on key races and districts in an attempt to tie federal grants and policymaking to those districts to influence the election.
Case in point: Earlier this year, an aide to Rove, Scott Jennings, made a PowerPoint presentation at the General Services Administration highlighting key House and Senate races in 2008, the Washington Post recently reported. GSA Administrator Lorita Doan is said to have told her managers to "support our candidates," the Post reported. Doan has told Bloch's investigators and Congress that she doesn't remember those remarks, and the administration says Doan didn't do anything improper. The unexpected discovery by Democrats probing the U.S. attorney firings that White House employees including Jennings and Rove were using dedicated RNC E-mail accounts only added fuel to the fire, especially when it came to light that Jennings had used his RNC E-mail address to send explosive E-mails about the removal of the U.S. attorney from Arkansas to make room for a Rove protégé.