Agents raid headquarters of whistle-blower counsel

WASHINGTON – Nearly two dozen federal agents Tuesday raided the Washington headquarters of the agency that protects government whistle-blowers, as part of an intensifying criminal investigation of its leader, who is fighting allegations of improper political bias and obstruction of justice.

Agents fanned out Tuesday morning in the agency’s building, where they sequestered Office of Special Counsel chief Scott J. Bloch for questioning, served grand-jury subpoenas on 17 employees and shut down access to computer networks in a search lasting more than five hours.

Bloch, who was nominated to his post by President Bush in 2003, is the principal official responsible for protecting federal employees from reprisals for complaints about waste and fraud. He also polices violations of Hatch Act prohibitions on political activities in federal offices.

Bloch has long been a target of criticism, some of it by his agency’s career officials, but the FBI’s abrupt seizure of computers and records marked a substantial escalation of the executive branch’s probe of his conduct. Retired FBI agents and former prosecutors called the raid an unusual, if not unprecedented, intrusion on the work of a federal agency.

Agents from the Office of Personnel Management’s inspector general’s office, who have been investigating Bloch for more than two years, visited his home in Alexandria, Va., Tuesday. They left carrying boxes of files.

A Kansas lawyer who previously worked at the Justice Department’s Task Force on Faith-Based and Community Initiatives, Bloch repeatedly clashed with his own workforce and with other Bush administration officials he targeted for improper behavior. By his own account, the White House twice asked him to resign.

Tuesday, a Bush spokesman declined to address Bloch’s status. Roscoe Howard, the former U.S. attorney in Washington who represents Bloch, declined to comment.

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