The objectivity of the office investigating potential Hatch Act violations by General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan has been "irreparably damaged" by leaks of a report on preliminary findings to the media, Doan's lawyer argued Thursday.
In a two-page letter sent late Thursday evening to Special Counsel Scott Bloch, Michael Nardotti Jr., counsel to Doan, said the Office of Special Counsel should "disapprove the current report and support any further consideration of this matter by an investigative body outside the Office of Special Counsel."
The report found that Doan violated the Hatch Act, which limits on-the-job political activity of federal employees. She has until June 1 to respond, after which OSC will send a final report to President Bush. But Nardotti, a lawyer at Patton Boggs LLP in Washington, said Doan's team would "pursue alternative disposition of this matter with the Office of the President."
OSC spokesman Jim Mitchell said the agency would not comment on the letter.
The investigation focused on Doan's role in a Jan. 26 meeting at GSA headquarters where Scott Jennings, special assistant to the president and a deputy of political adviser Karl Rove, showed a 28-slide PowerPoint presentation to more than 30 GSA political appointees that analyzed the results of the 2006 mid-term election and prospects for the 2008 elections.
"The fact that some version of the report is now in the hands of at least three major media outlets leads to the very reasonable conclusion that this is not simply a case of one person providing a copy of the report to a favored journalist," Nardotti said in the letter. "It appears to be [a] carefully planned campaign to cause maximum damage to Ms. Doan."
The letter stated that it would be "beyond reason" to conclude that the leak came from a source outside OSC.
"The obligation to maintain the confidentiality of the report lies with your office and ultimately with you as the special counsel," the letter stated. "The gross and inexcusable failure to prevent the release of the report is extraordinarily unfair to Administrator Doan and has compromised the integrity of the process."
Nardotti noted that there were two versions of the report cited in the press. The earlier one, obtained by The Washington Post and dated May 17, recommended that President Bush "take disciplinary action" against Doan. This was changed to "appropriate action" in the version dated May 18.
"The leak of the May 17th version -- clearly a draft -- is particularly egregious," the letter stated. "It evidences a malicious effort by someone on your staff to seriously disparage Administrator Doan publicly -- perhaps before she even received the report -- but certainly before she had any meaningful opportunity to respond."
Elaine Kaplan, Bloch's predecessor as special counsel, said she was surprised to see the OSC report on the Post's Web site since it is OSC policy not to make its investigative reports available to the public, especially in an un-redacted format.
The chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on Thursday asked Doan to testify regarding statements she made during the OSC investigation. The chairman, Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., said he was concerned about her allegations that employees who testified about her statements at the Jan. 26 meeting were biased and poor performers.
Doan received Waxman's request and is reviewing it, a GSA spokeswoman said.