OSC rejects claim it leaked copies of Hatch Act report

By Daniel Pulliam

May 30, 2007

The head of the Office of Special Counsel rejected a request by attorneys for General Services Administration chief Lurita Doan to shut down an inquiry into allegations that she violated the law limiting political activity in the government.

In a one-page letter Friday, Special Counsel Scott Bloch said Doan's accusation that OSC gave copies of its investigative report to the public is false. The letter said OSC believes that someone from GSA obtained a copy of the report, which found that Doan had violated the Hatch Act through her role in a January meeting at GSA headquarters, and leaked it to the press.

The letter came in response to one from Doan's lawyer arguing that OSC's objectivity has been "irreparably damaged" by leaks of a report on preliminary findings to the media. Bloch should "disapprove the current report and support any further consideration of this matter by an investigative body outside the Office of Special Counsel," the lawyers said.

Bloch said Doan is "attempting to throw up roadblocks" to OSC's investigation.

"Indeed, one could construe this ruse as further obstruction, attempting to prevent completion of our investigation and report to the president," Bloch wrote. "This office has exclusive jurisdiction over the Hatch Act, and we will complete this matter and report to the president."

Doan has until Friday to respond to the report, after which the agency will send its assessment to President Bush along with Doan's response.

Michael Nardotti Jr., counsel to Doan, said the report has serious deficiencies and omissions.

"This investigation should be placed in the hands of an entity that will eliminate these failures," Nardotti said. "It's absurd to suggest that Administrator Doan would leak such a personally damaging document at any time, but particularly before she has submitted her response."

Bloch argued in his letter that privacy act regulations allow him to release any information he deems "appropriate or in the public interest."

"There is no contamination of a jury pool here," Bloch said. "The decision-maker is the president of the United States who, I expect, will not likely be swayed by varying press reports."

But Nardotti fired back Wednesday in a letter to Bloch, arguing that he failed to address whether or not OSC leaked the report and that Doan "strongly denies your charge of a 'ruse.'"

Nardotti said there is no credible argument that the public's interest was served by the early release of the report, and that emphasizing the special counsel's "broad release authority seems inconsistent with the underlying premise" of the letter.

"If dissemination of the report was an official act taken under your admittedly broad authority, it would not need to be in the form of a leak to the media," Nardotti said. "Your authority to do so is not called into question."

But Jim Mitchell, an OSC spokesman, said the words "public" and "media" are interchangeable in this context.

In related news, Doan announced Tuesday that she would accept an invitation from Rep. Henry Waxman, D-Calif., to testify before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee on June 7.

"The administrator will attend and welcomes the opportunity to reassure the committee that all GSA employees have been encouraged to cooperate fully with Congress and with the Office of Special Counsel," a GSA spokeswoman said in a statement.

In a letter to Bloch Wednesday, Waxman asked for documents related to OSC's investigation of Doan by June 5, in preparation for the hearing.

Waxman requested the transcripts and written submissions by witnesses interviewed by OSC investigators, the GSA personnel file information gathered by OSC during the investigation and Doan's private and government e-mail records reviewed by OSC to determine whether she was using her BlackBerry during the Jan. 26 meeting.

By Daniel Pulliam

May 30, 2007