FBI agents raided the downtown Washington, D.C. offices of Special Counsel Scott Bloch Tuesday, a spokesman for the official confirmed.
The Office of Special Counsel (OSC) was created to protect whistle-blower rights and investigate improper political activity by government employees. Bloch allegedly attempted to destroy certain computer files in his office following complaints by whistleblowers in his own office. President Bush appointed Bloch to head the office in 2003.
"We are cooperating with law enforcement," said OSC spokesman Jim Mitchell by e-mail. "We do not know what this is about. Meanwhile, we are continuing to perform the independent mission of this office."
The National Public Radio and Wall Street Journal, which first reported the raid, said the searches appeared related to allegations of obstruction of justice by Bloch during a 2006 inquiry into his office.
Bloch told the Federal Times he hired the firm Geeks on Call to fix a problem with his laptop computer that IT was unable to solve. He said the firm was hired to protect sensitive files, not destroy them.
The data wipe "was Fixing Problems 101," Bloch told Federal Times in an interview. "End of story."
In recent years, Bloch and the administration formed something of a mutual investigation club. The White House directed the Office of Personnel Management to investigate Bloch in 2005, reportedly over allegations he retaliated against his subordinates and improperly dismissed certain whistle-blower cases. In 2007, Bloch opened a sprawling investigation into the White House. It covered questions on whether top political operative Karl Rove and others improperly dispatched favors from government agencies to help Republicans win in the 2006 midterm elections, the firing of U.S. Attorney David Iglesias and the White House e-mail system.
A grand jury approved subpoenas for Tuesday's raids on Bloch's office and home, indicating he is the subject of a federal criminal investigation. Twenty agents participated in the search of Bloch's office, which began at 10:30 a.m. Bloch was not arrested, but he was reportedly interviewed by agents.
Bloch has been no darling to outside watchdog groups, who last year accused him of opening investigations into Bush administration figures as a way to claim political martyrdom if he himself was done in by a probe.
"It's been our experience that Scott Bloch is someone who gives opportunism a bad name," Jeff Ruch, director of Public Employees for Environmental Responsibility (PEER), told ABC News last year. In the past, Ruch and other groups have called on Bloch to resign. Through a spokesman, Bloch had denied any suggestion his investigations were motivated by self-preservation.
Bloch's investigations have helped nudge other top government officials from their perches. Last May, Bloch concluded that former Government Services Administration head Lurita Doan, who resigned recently, was guilty of violating a ban on partisan political activity by encouraging her employees to think of ways to help "our candidates."
Doan steadfastly maintained her innocence, and said the White House requested her resignation because she had become "a distraction."
Last June, Department of Commerce Inspector General Johnny E. Frazier resigned after Bloch concluded that Frazier had retaliated against employees who had reported wrongdoing.
Frazier disagreed. Upon resigning, he acknowledged he was disappointed to be "leaving...at a time when my office and I are the subject of controversy."