Karl in the middle

The Office of Special Counsel investigates the epicenter.

Published April 24, 2007 2:30PM (EDT)

Somebody gets it: The federal government's Office of Special Counsel is launching an investigation into a set of seemingly disparate White House controversies, all of which have at their center the man who's at the center of everything: Karl Rove.

As the Los Angeles Times explains this morning, the OSC is "an obscure federal investigative unit" that usually finds itself monitoring relatively low-level federal employees for violations of ethical and administrative rules. The OSC's Web site describes it as "an independent federal investigative and prosecutorial agency" charged with responsibility for the Civil Service Reform Act, the Whistleblower Protection Act and the Hatch Act.

Scott Bloch, the Bush appointee who runs the OSC, said the agency's plan for a broader investigation into White House political activities grew out of investigations into two separate controversies: one involving the firing of David Iglesias, one of the eight U.S. attorneys forced out last year, and one involving a partisan PowerPoint presentation one of Rove's assistants made before a group of General Services Administration managers. The new "unified investigation" will include the case of the missing e-mails and could cover "many facets of the political operation in which Rove played a leading part," the Times says.

It would be easy enough to write off the OSC's investigation as a fox-guarding-the-henhouse approach -- or, at the very least, as the source of endless "there's an ongoing investigation so we can't comment" statements from the White House. But NYU executive branch expert Paul Light tells the Times that the investigation is, in fact, a big deal. "It is a significant moment for the administration and Karl Rove," Light says. "It speaks to the growing sense that there is a nexus at the White House that explains what's going on in these disparate investigations."

By Tim Grieve

Tim Grieve is a senior writer and the author of Salon's War Room blog.

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