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Agency says inquiry hits roadblocks

Complaints involve U.S. attorneys' firings.

Associated Press
Published January 30, 2008


WASHINGTON - The head of a federal inquiry into the firings of eight U.S. attorneys says the Justice Department has impeded his investigation.

Specifically, Office of Special Counsel chief Scott Bloch sent Attorney General Michael Mukasey a letter last week saying the department's inspector general and Office of Legal Counsel asked him to step aside until internal investigations are finished.

But that could take months, Bloch wrote, effectively pushing his agency's role "into the very last months of the administration when there is little hope of any corrective measures or discipline possible."

The Office of Special Counsel is a small, independent federal agency charged with protecting federal workers and ensuring that government whistle-blowers aren't subject to reprisal.

Bloch also complained that his attempts to meet with White House counsel Fred Fielding to discuss the investigation have been rebuffed. The White House did not immediately return phone and e-mail messages seeking comments Tuesday.

The firings of eight U.S. attorneys provoked a backlash on Capitol Hill last year, where lawmakers questioned whether the moves were politically motivated. That undermined Alberto Gonzales, who wound up resigning as attorney general. (A ninth U.S. attorney, Todd Graves in Missouri, said he was forced out.)

Bloch's letter was first reported Tuesday by the Los Angeles Times and, an online Minnesota news site.

Bloch also complains about the investigation into the performance of Rachel Paulose, who recently stepped down as U.S. attorney for Minnesota amid complaints about her management style. She took a job with the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy.

He referenced a letter he had sent to Mukasey on Nov. 19 - the same day that Paulose announced her resignation - in which Bloch concluded that there is a "substantial likelihood that U.S. Attorney Paulose has grossly mismanaged" the U.S. Attorney's Office.

Bloch's agency had referred allegations about Paulose to the Inspector General's Office, but the office told him by telephone in October that it had "asked around" and wasn't planning to do anything, Bloch said.

Then in December, according to Bloch, Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis wrote to him, demanding a retraction from Bloch's "substantial likelihood" finding. That finding was based on allegations made by John Marti, who resigned from his management post as first assistant U.S. Attorney under Paulose.

Bloch asks Mukasey: "Are you requesting that I report to the president that you refuse to investigate disclosures of wrongdoing made by a career federal prosecutor, an employee of your agency?"

The department's behavior, Bloch says, "reveals a disturbing pattern of disregard for the authority of my office."

In an e-mail, Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr said, "We are reviewing the letter and will respond to Mr. Bloch as appropriate."

Cynthia Schnedar, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General, said Bloch's letter was "replete with inaccuracies and mischaracterizations of our actions. Moreover, we believe it is more responsible for him to hold off initiating his limited inquiry until we have completed our comprehensive and independent investigation into the U.S. attorney matter."

[Last modified January 30, 2008, 02:01:53]

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