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Agency investigating Rove's political operation

Story Highlights

• Federal agency investigating Karl Rove and other White House officials
• Presentations made by White House aides might have violated Hatch Act
• Hatch Act protects federal employees from political coercion
• Agency also investigating GOP e-mail accounts, attorney firings
From Ed Henry
CNN Washington Bureau
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- A small federal agency responsible for safeguarding federal employees from political coercion has launched an extensive investigation into the activities of the White House's political operation and its architect, Karl Rove.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel is looking into whether Rove -- President Bush's longtime trusted political strategist -- or other White House aides violated federal law by making political presentations to government employees in the run-up to last year's midterm elections.

"We will do a thorough job. We will not leave any stone unturned," said Scott Bloch, a Kansas lawyer appointed by Bush to head the agency in 2003. "We will be fair, we will be impartial, and we will be thorough." (Watch what makes this probe different Video)

Bloch confirmed that Rove will be a focus of his investigation.

"Mr. Rove is a respected individual in the White House, and we plan to do our job with professionalism," he said.

The investigation centers on allegations that officials with the White House political operation improperly made presentations to employees in a number of federal agencies, encouraging them to find ways to support Republican candidates in the midterm elections. The practice came to light when some employees at the General Services Administration complained.

While the White House has insisted the practice was proper, Bloch said his agency will look at whether these presentations violated the Hatch Act by using federal resources for partisan political activity, coercing subordinates to engage in political activity or using "official authority or influence" to affect the outcome of an election.

Bloch's office of 106 employees investigates violations of the federal Civil Service Act and the Hatch Act. The agency is also charged with protecting federal whistle-blowers from retaliation.

The agency cannot bring criminal charges, but it does have subpoena power and can recommend sanctions -- including termination -- against federal officials who violate federal laws imposed to protect workers.

"We don't have slaps on the wrists. We have actual disciplinary action we obtain," Bloch said. "The higher up you go in the chain, the higher level an official you are, the higher the standards for your behavior."

Bloch insisted that his support for Bush in the last two presidential elections will not affect his investigation.

"We are an independent federal agency. Anyone who knows me and knows my performance here in the job knows we have obtained corrective action for many individuals who have been aggrieved in the federal government," he said.

Bloch said he anticipated full cooperation from the White House.

E-mail accounts, attorney firing also under investigation

The agency is also investigating the use of Republican Party e-mail accounts by administration officials and the controversial firing of a U.S. attorney in New Mexico, now at the center of a congressional investigation.

Some e-mails in a GOP account outside of the White House system were not retained, and Democrats have demanded to know whether the accounts were being used to hide potentially damaging information.

The Office of Special Counsel is also responsible for protecting the job rights of National Guard and Reserve members who are called away for military duty. In that capacity, Bloch is looking into whether David Iglesias, one of eight U.S. attorneys dismissed earlier this year, was punished for missing work to serve in the Navy Reserve.

Iglesias, who was the U.S. attorney for New Mexico until he was replaced in February, was cited as an "absentee landlord" in a Justice Department document laying out reasons for his termination. William Moschella, the No. 3 official at Justice, told a House subcommittee in March that Iglesias was fired because he delegated too much responsibility to his deputy.

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, recently told the Senate Judiciary Committee that Iglesias was added to the list of prosecutors to be replaced after the midterm elections, and that Rove had complained Iglesias had not pursued voter fraud cases aggressively enough.

Iglesias has said he felt "leaned on" when two Republican members of New Mexico's congressional delegation, Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, called him to inquire about pending corruption cases against state Democrats before the election.

The Office of Special Counsel is looking into whether Karl Rove or other White House aides violated federal law by making political presentations to government employees.



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