You may not have heard, but not long ago, FBI agents raided a federal government office, as well as the presidentially appointed head of that office’s home. The story centers around Special Counsel Scott Bloch, who leads the Office of Special Counsel, the government office in charge of protecting government whistleblowers and enforcing the Hatch Act—a law that forbids government employees from using federal resources for political ends. The Special Counsel reports to the White House.
In April 2007, Bloch announced a major investigation into his bosses. He planned to examine not only the firing of a U.S. Attorney, but also missing White House e-mails, and efforts led by Karl Rove to politicize the federal government and use certain agencies for electoral purposes.
Bloch’s only real power was the power to investigate, but he intended to use it: “We will take the evidence where it leads us,” he said. “We will not leave any stone unturned.” Bloch subsequently had public battles with the Department of Justice over the Attorney firings.
And yet the story gets more and more curious from here. As TPM Muckracker revealed, three whistleblower advocacy groups issued a report in 2005 revealing that Bloch purged more than 20 percent of his staff. The purges were all of career investigators with experience working with whistleblowers. In fact, Bloch was under investigation himself for a variety of violations, including retaliation against employees who disagreed with his policies and discrimination against those who were gay or members of religious minorities.
Investigators learned that in late 2006, Bloch completely erased his office computer—he allegedly bypassed his own agency’s computer techs and instead paid “Geeks on Call,” a private mobile PC-help service, to come in and give his computer a “seven-level wipe” —an erasure method so thorough that makes it all but impossible for any forensic expert to retrieve data from the computer. According to investigators, Bloch also had Geeks on Call perform the same task on laptops used by his top two deputies. (Remember, this would have all occurred while Bloch was under active investigation. He also paid for the wipes with the agency’s credit card).
Earlier this month, the FBI finally stepped in. Armed with grand jury subpoenas, agents raided Bloch’s office and home in connection with the destruction of the hard drives. And the Bureau is continuing its probe today.
According to Government Executive,investigators are demanding information on the Office of Special Counsel’s investigations of Lurita Doan, the former head of the General Services Administration who was forced to resign last week by the White House, and more interestingly, all the files relating to a 2005 investigation into Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice. Rice was accused of using government money to stump for President Bush in 2004, but Bloch’s office closed the investigation and found no evidence of wrongdoing by Rice.
In any case, following the raids, evidence began to appear that Bloch’s alleged investigation of Rove and the White House was merely a diversionary tactic that involved doing exactly the opposite. The Project on Government Oversight said they discovered evidence indicating that Bloch didn’t have the authority to begin the investigation, and that although all his top aides told him so, he ginned up the investigation of the White House and the Department of Justice anyway in order to create the impression of a conflict of interest. The idea, apparently, was that such an investigation would protect Bloch from the investigations underway into his own conduct.
Naturally, these dramatic developments garnered massive media attention. Well, not so much. The FBI raids of the Office of Special Counsel were never mentioned on the nightly news broadcasts of NBC or ABC, nor were they mentioned on NBC’s “Meet the Press,” CBS’s “Face the Nation,” or ABC’s “This Week.”
They did receive two mentions on MSNBC, four sentences on CNN, and three sentences on Fox News. But the story of this apparent abuse of power and protection racket for administration malfeasance did not appear on the front page of the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, or at all in USA Today. One is left speechless at just what it would take for reporters and editors to take an interest. Perhaps if Bloch had fooled around with an intern…
Meanwhile, back at the Pentagon, the Defense Department’s propaganda program continues to inspire a near blackout in the mainstream media. Since our last column on the topic appeared, Media Matters did a study revealing that the supposedly objective analysts appeared over 4,500 times on in the media. The House of Representatives also voted to ban the program and forced the Government Accountability Office to investigate the scandal. This is on top of the 7,500 word story in the New York Times that broke the story open, and the Pentagon permanently suspending the program.
But aside from a strong critique of the Times’ piece by Rachel Sklar on The Huffington Post’s “Eat the Press,” reporters and editors have continued to act as if they hope the story will just disappear. Both CNN and Fox News are still using the military analysts implicated in the program.
Remember, the first step to beating an addiction is to admit you have a problem.
Eric Alterman is a Senior Fellow at the Center for American Progress and a Distinguished Professor of English at Brooklyn College, and a professor of journalism at the CUNY Graduate School of Journalism. His blog, “Altercation,” appears at http://www.mediamatters.org/altercation. His seventh book, Why We’re Liberals: A Political Handbook for Post-Bush America, was recently published by Viking.
George Zornick is a New York-based writer.