Former Bush Administration Attorney Threatens Bloggers As He Faces Federal Sentencing

Scott Bloch used to be a deputy director to the Department of Justice's Task Force for Faith-based and Community Initiatives under President George W. Bush and a Special Counsel at the United States Office of Special Counsel. Now he's a defendant in a federal criminal case, and has pleaded guilty to a misdemeanor for approving a "seven level wipe" on certain Office of Special Counsel computers, and now faces sentencing. This represented a milder charge than ones the government previously pursued: the feds charged him initially with contempt of Congress but abandoned that charge after Bloch was allowed to withdraw a guilty plea to it.

In addition to all that, it appears that Scott Bloch is a censorious thug.

Empty Wheel — which has been following Bloch's prosecution closely — has a post describing how Bloch has threatened bloggers writing about his case. Empty Wheel attaches and quotes a letter on Scott Bloch's own law firm letterhead. It includes the following language:

I write to demand that you remove these articles and blogs about me and my time as Special Counsel immediately. This is harmful to my professional reputation as a lawyer and you are not commenting on any public matters that are current. The prior legal defense fund is defunct and has not been active for over two years. Your demeaning and personal attacks impute to me qualities that tend to injure me in my business of representing contractors. Your website is dedicate [sic] to them and therefore you are targeting my business in Washington, D.C. intentionally, and my residence in Virginia, from where I draw some of my clients.

If you choose to ignore this and not remove the materials from your internet site and blogs and all caches, I will be forced to sue for an injunction and to seek damages. As long as the article remains on your website, you are publishing it. In addition, you are publishing it in various fora, including in Virginia and Washington D.C. where I represent employees and federal employees [sic] Continuing publication also subjects you to Virginia jurisdiction as long as the article remains on the web. I will institute an action in Virginia and in Washington D.C. against you for defamation and actual malice, together with damages and punitive damages.1 I will also seek damages for civil conspiracy to harm my business, and Virginia courts and juries have proved to be very protective of one’s business reputation when gratuitously harmed by publications. If I determine through discovery that you have worked with others to do this, I will join them as well. (emphasis added)

Were it not a vexatious attempt to chill free speech, Bloch's letter would be comical because it is so surpassingly ridiculous. First, Bloch does not specify which specific statements in the blog posts are false and defamatory. As I often say, vagueness in a defamation threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery. Second, the assertion that Bloch's federal case — the prosecution of a former Department of Justice and Office of Special Counsel lawyer — is not a "public mater" that is "current" is freakishly frivolous. Third, the demand that bloggers remove all materials — not just specified allegedly false statements — is legally unsupportable and a reliable tell of censorious bullying, not merit. Fourth, the statement "As long as the article remains on your website, you are publishing it" is at best a highly questionable assertion of law. Virginia will probably follow the Single Publication Rule, and the District of Columbia definitely follows it; that rule provides that the statute of limitations for a defamation suit begins to run when a statement is first published, even if it remains on the internet thereafter.

Bloch's letter has all of the signs of bullying and none of the signs of truth. Empty Wheel notes that he has not threatened a larger blogger with a wider audience, but smaller blogs — perhaps ones more easily cowed.

I hope that someone finds a way to put this threat before the judge in Bloch's case to consider when he is sentenced.

Last 5 posts by Ken White

Comments

  1. Paul E. "Marbux" Merrell, J.D. says

    @ "you are not commenting on any public matters that are current"

    Somewhat ironically, from Defendant's Memorandum in Aid of Sentencing:

    Mr. Bloch's guilty plea was a public event noted by the media and will forever follow him in his affairs in the future. These collateral consequences form a supplemental aspect of the punishment Mr. Bloch will face, and also serve as an additional deterrent against others would would consider engaging in such conduct in the future.

    But now that those collateral consequences that he says warrant a softer sentence are occurring, he wants to curtail those consequences even before sentencing? Poor timing, to say the least.

  2. James says

    If Popehat were a podcast instead of a blog, this would be the post that finally inspires me to make a supercut of every variation on the phrase "Hallmark of Meritless Thuggery," a la "I'm A Doctor, Not A _________!"

  3. Steve says

    Interestingly, Bloch's own sentencing memorandum states

    Mr. Bloch's guilty plea was a public event that was noted by the media and will forever follow him the his affairs in the future. These collateral consequences form a supplemental aspect of the punishment Mr. Bloch will face, and also serve as an additional deterrent against others who would could engaging in similar conduct in the future.

  4. En Passant says

    Ken White wrote in OP:

    As I often say, vagueness in a defamation threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery. Second, the assertion that Bloch's federal case — the prosecution of a former Department of Justice and Office of Special Counsel lawyer — is not a "public mater" that is "current" is freakishly frivolous. …

    Bloch's letter has all of the signs of bullying and none of the signs of truth. Empty Wheel notes that he has not threatened a larger blogger with a wider audience, but smaller blogs — perhaps ones more easily cowed.

    Meritless thuggery and freakishy frivolous interpretations of law appear to be the behaviors that attracted the criminal charges in the first place.

    Threatening only "smaller blogs" is a very strange way to defend one's reputation, for fairly obvious reasons.

    So, it isn't unreasonable to conclude that what drives all the behaviors is more akin to a need to be obeyed than a desire to develop or vindicate one's good reputation.

  5. says

    "you are not commenting on any public matters that are current"

    What was that line about repeating something you don't recall… ?

    Oh. Right. That's the point, ain't it, Scotty? And the past seems to be getting awfully current if we aren't to comment on a on-going trial. But that's — to recall a line current enough that even he should be satisfied — the point. Eh?

  6. He really said that...?!? says

    Mr. Bloch, meet the Streisand Effect. Streisand Effect, Mr. Bloch.

  7. says

    Methinks that Bloch (or his attorney) has been editing his Wikipedia page:

    The misdemeanor contempt statute to which he pled, 2 U.S.C. 192, is not a lying to Congress misdemeanor, is not a false statement statute. He was not under oath in the interview with Congress over a computer incident in his office. He was asked over two hours of questions a year and a half after the events occurred without any reference to notes or documents of any kind. The plea was based on not fully cooperating with Congress in that interview on five particular questions and answers deep into the interview. [28]

    He has moved to withdraw his plea because it was obtained in violation of the Constitution and the federal rules governing pleas. [29] The open records of the Court indicate from the U.S. Government that they have entered into negotiations for a different misdemeanor plea if this one is vacated by the U.S. District Court where the appeal is pending. [30]

    Citations are to PACER and court documents.

    If you look at the page's edit history, there are a bunch more weird edits about what a great, upstanding individual Bloch is that have since been removed.

  8. Jon says

    Come on, he wasn't committing contempt of congress in erasing files about discrimination against gays from his computer. I bet he was just trying to hide his tranny porn torrent collection from Prenda. Should have just used CCleaner.

  9. NI says

    I am a huge believer in giving people second chances so long as they demonstrate that they want to be a better person today than they were yesterday. And I think in general when someone screws up, even rather badly, that in time it will be forgiven if they demonstrate a willingness to make better choices.

    The problem with this guy isn't that he screwed up in the past. The problem is that he's continuing to make it worse. Even apart from his letter being terrible legal and public relations strategy, it is not the mark of someone trying to rehabiliate himself.

  10. ZarroTsu says

    The more times I read "vagueness in a defamation threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery", the more I imagine Ken sighing sadly to himself before writing it.

  11. Eric R. says

    @Ken:

    As I often say, vagueness in a defamation threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery.

    If you haven't got that set up as a keyboard macro, you should. Think of all the time you'll save!

  12. Steve Florman says

    I love that he gets the proper plural of "forum" but muffs something as simple as "from where [sic] I draw some of my clients" and can't add a "d" to "dedicated." Written in a hurry and in a huff, I'd guess.

  13. says

    "vagueness in a defamation threat is the hallmark of meritless thuggery"

    You really should have that in Latin, on a heraldry crest of some kind, maybe with a shield and a pony on it.

  14. Another Woman says

    Following up with Windypundit's excellent suggestion (wonderful post, Ken), but someone with a classical education will have to do better than Google Translate:
    obtrectatio caecum in comminatione esse virtutem peculiarem meritless percussores

  15. Greg says

    Forgive me if I'm just missing it, but I don't even see where he is claiming defamation or libel. All I'm getting from the letter is a complaint about butthurt in the first degree (I don't see a single mention of false or untrue statements), and their demand for removal doesn't seem to include any legal basis for threat (however vague or ill-conceived). This seems more asinine than usual, and to come from someone that in a previous life was part of the Justice Department seems particularly egregious, not to mention makes me wonder even more than usual about the quality of individuals that make up the Justice Department.

  16. Greg says

    Ah, I was only looking at the quoted text above, which wasn't complete text of the letter. On the linked article, a copy of the letter showed 2 previous paragraphs that weren't quoted, that provide the claims of defamation.

  17. Jonah says

    If you choose to ignore this and not remove the materials from your internet site and blogs and all caches, I will be forced to sue for an injunction and to seek damages.

    The request to remove cached copies is also a clear indication of someone who thinks they have some idea about how the internet works, but are, in fact, totally clueless. There is simply no way for the publisher of a web page to even track down all the cached copies of that page that may exist out on the internet, let alone remove them all.

  18. Pete says

    And this ill-advised broadside from the man who once stipulated his employees to the following:

    "before choosing a skirt to wear, sit down in it facing a mirror."

  19. crunchback says

    Remember what happened to Marmalard (sic?) after "Animal House"? Enjoy prison.

  20. says

    @crunchback

    Remember what happened to Marmalard (sic?) after "Animal House"? Enjoy prison.

    Prison rape, where the State takes away a citizen's ability to defend himself and then turns a blind eye to horrific assault, is not something I find particularly amusing.

    Evil-doers need to be punished. So punish them – lock them up.

    A civilized nation does not water board enemy combatants nor does it tacitly condone violent rape.

    (Yes, that's two strikes against our current government ; I don't consider it particularly civilized.)

  21. says

    A civilized nation does not water board enemy combatants nor does it tacitly condone violent rape.

    Thank you for this. Just the other day I was thinking: Why is it that when I read an article about a woman being sentenced to prison, I never see comments from people wishing rape upon the woman while she's locked up, but if it's a man being sentenced to prison, it's pretty much a given that there will be a pro-rape comment?

    I don't get why this is so hard to understand: Even with no threat whatsoever of rape, prison is no fun at all. Adding rape fantasies to the mix is overkill, man.

  22. Matthew Cline says

    you are not commenting on any public matters that are current.

    When it comes to defamation laws, are there any situations where it matters how recent the subject of the allegedly defamatory statements are?

  23. AlphaCentauri says

    He's in trouble for having been too enthusiastic about dumping things down the memory hole, and this is how he decides to rectify things? Irony much?

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