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FBI agents search special counsel's home and office
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - FBI agents on Tuesday raided the office and home of the U.S. official responsible for protecting whistleblowers, as they investigated whether he has mistreated employees and obstructed justice.
Agents were looking for evidence that Special Counsel Scott Bloch had obstructed the investigation and retaliated against career employees, federal law enforcement officials said.
The office's computer system was shut down as about 20 agents spent most of the day combing through files in the Office of Special Counsel's downtown headquarters, agency spokesman James Mitchell said.
"It's not clear to us what they are searching for," Mitchell said as TV cameramen milled about the lobby.
Bloch, in office since 2004, is responsible for protecting government whistleblowers and ensuring that the federal bureaucracy is not used for political ends.
But employees there accused Bloch of stocking the office with friends and political allies, and transferring career staffers who disagreed with his decision to remove discrimination protections for gay and lesbian employees.
Twelve career employees were reassigned to a field office in Detroit against their will, prompting most of them to quit, according to a complaint provided by a lawyer who represents former and current employees at the office.
"This office has been really nonfunctional under Scott Bloch," lawyer Debra Katz said.
The Office of Personnel Management's inspector general announced an investigation in 2005. The probe was later expanded to include the FBI and prosecutors from the U.S. Attorney's office in Washington, a law enforcement source said.
Bloch came under further scrutiny when he hired an outside computer service in 2006 to erase his computer's hard drive. He told Congress he was removing a virus and fighting a hacking threat, but critics said he was destroying evidence and questioned why he did not use the office's in-house technicians.
Critics also say Bloch announced investigations against the White House to protect himself politically.
Watchdog groups said they were pleased to see visible progress in the years-long investigation.
"It's an extraordinary irony that you've got a guy whose job it is to protect whistleblowers, but all of this began because he was retaliating against whistleblowers in his own shop," said Danielle Brian, executive director of the Project on Government Oversight, a Washington watchdog group.
(Editing by Chris Wilson)
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