WASHINGTON (AP) — The Agriculture Department abruptly ordered congressional auditors to leave its Washington offices this week and told employees not to cooperate with them.

"You are hereby instructed not to meet with any member of the (Government Accountability Office) today, or until this matter is resolved," Michael Watts, head of the department's office of adjudication, wrote to employees Wednesday in an e-mail obtained by The Associated Press.

The auditors were seeking information for an ongoing review of Agriculture's civil rights office, including whether the department had provided false information about the office's progress in handling discrimination complaints.