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Limited review finds White House political office was within law

WASHINGTON (Reuters) - A limited review found the White House's political office appears to be operating within the law, a federal oversight agency said amid a congressional probe into whether taxpayer money has been used by the Obama administration for political purposes.

The U.S. Office of the Special Counsel said it had reviewed correspondence about the establishment of the administration's Office of Political Strategy and Outreach (OPSO), and based on that review found OPSO appeared to be adhering to its guidance on the scope of the office's activities.

The OSC review looked at correspondence between the White House and Darrell Issa, head of the House of Representatives' Oversight and Government Reform Committee.

"To the extent that OPSO's activities are limited to thosedescribed in the White House correspondence, OPSO appears to be operating in a manner that is consistent with Hatch Act restrictions," the Office of the Special Counsel said in a letter dated July 24 and released on Friday.

It also said it has received no allegations of wrongdoing about any staffers in the White House's political unit, including by director David Simas.

The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee held a hearing last week on how the political office has complied with the Hatch Act, which forbids most federal government employees from engaging in partisan political activity.

Issa has queried other administration activities, including the Internal Revenue Service's scrutiny of conservative groups seeking tax-exempt status and circumstances surrounding the 2012 attacks on U.S. facilities in Benghazi, Libya, in which four Americans were killed.

At the hearing last week, U.S. Special Counsel Carolyn Lerner testified that the administration's political office appeared to be following restrictions under the law.

In the letter released on Friday, Lerner also said her agency will investigate the issue if it is given "credible evidence that indicates a violation." The special counsel's office is charged with enforcing the Hatch Act.

The letter was released by Elijah Cummings, the top Democrat on the House committee, who had sought more details following the hearing.

Issa had subpoenaed Simas to testify at the hearing, but the White House contested the summons and said he would not appear.

At the hearing, Issa accused Obama's former labor secretary, Hilda Solis, of breaking the law by seeking political donations for Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

Issa spokesman Frederick Hill said the letter was based on a cursory review and not a full investigation and that "there continue to be concerns" about the administration's political office.

The committee met on Friday to consider the next steps in the investigation.

(Reporting by Susan Heavey; Editing by Phil Berlowitz and Jim Loney)

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