No answers foreseen in probe of federal prosecutors' firings

WASHINGTON -- Questions of who had Dan Bogden fired as Nevada's chief federal prosecutor -- and why -- may forever remain a mystery.

Justice Department internal detectives failed to come up with answers as they completed an investigation this week of Bogden's removal and the purging of eight other U.S. attorneys in 2006.

A 358-page report by the Office of Inspector General and the Office of Professional Responsibility was critical of former attorney general Alberto Gonzales and officials under him who compiled lists of U.S. attorneys to be removed and who carried out the dismissals.

Yet it broke little new ground to pinpoint why Bogden, who served six years as U.S. Attorney in Nevada, was let go.

Officials in critical posts serve at the will of the president, who it is said can dismiss them for any reason or no reason, as long as it is not illegal. In this case, there may never be a reason known for certain.

"As with the removals of several other U.S. Attorneys, we were unable to identify the person responsible for putting Bogden on the removal list," investigators said in a chapter devoted to the Nevadan.

"We found no documents or evidence showing who made the ultimate decision," they said.

Bogden said Friday he learned little new information after cooperating with the investigators and reading their findings.

"I would still like to know," he said after he attended a House Judiciary Committee hearing where Inspector General Glenn Fine reviewed the report with lawmakers.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey named Nora Dannehy, a longtime public corruption prosecutor from Connecticut, to continue the inquiry into the firings, but Bogden was uncertain whether any more ground will be broken in his case.

Rather it seems the watchdogs are moving in on more fruitful directions. Justice investigators said there were clear signs that improper political influence shaped the dismissals of U.S. Attorneys David Iglesias of New Mexico, Bud Cummins of Arkansas and Todd Graves of the Western District of Missouri.

Bogden got his pink slip in a phone call on Dec. 7, 2006 from Michael Battle, director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys. Bogden, who had been a federal prosecutor for 16 years, now is an attorney with the McDonald Carano Wilson firm in Nevada.

As Congress early in 2007 called on the Bush administration to explain the highly unusual mid-term firings of so many high-level law enforcers, officials gave varying justifications for how Bogden was handled, according to investigators.

The Nevadan "lacked energy and leadership," Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty told the Senate Judiciary Committee at a Feb. 14 briefing.

Three weeks later, William Moschella, principal associate deputy attorney general, testified before the House Judiciary Committee that there "was no particular deficiency" with Bogden, but he was removed to obtain "renewed energy" in the Las Vegas office.

Investigators said nobody involved in the removal process "ever objectively assessed any concerns about Bogden's performance." That included the Nevada office's sole performance evaluation, a 2003 review that concluded the U.S. Attorney "was highly regarded."

"We found no evidence that department officials ever raised concerns about Bogden's performance with him before he was removed," according to the report.

Gonzales and McNulty said they were surprised to see Bogden was being fired, and did not know why, but did not stop it.

Investigators said they developed one line of evidence suggesting that Bogden may have been targeted after getting crossways with Brent Ward, a former U.S. Attorney in Utah who had been appointed to direct an Obscenity Prosecution Task Force.

It has previously been reported that Ward was unhappy when Bogden would not assign a prosecutor to pursue a case involving a Las Vegas man and his wife who were producing Internet porn.

The new report added detail as to just how angry Ward was.

Investigators said Bogden and Ward disagreed whether the case was significant. Bogden told Ward the case was "small potatoes" and needed "a whole lot of work," according to the report. Ward argued other women were involved and the material "depicted women being abused an engaging in egregious behavior."

Bogden, whose office at the time was immersed in high-profile cases involving Hells Angels and members of the Clark County Commission, told Ward he had a "severe manning shortage" and could not spare a person.

"Ward was angered by Bogden's response and forwarded it to several senior department officials," including Kyle Sampson, who was Gonzales' chief of staff and who acknowledged being the "aggregator' of the U.S. attorney removal list.

Ward "frequently complained directly to Sampson," also from Utah. Ward was a friend of Sampson's brother, who lived in Salt Lake City, according to the report.

Ward also forwarded his complaint to a senior counsel in the Justice criminal division, who in turn shared it with three others in the division front office. Those included the division's chief of staff Matt Freidrich, who shared it with Michael Elston, the chief of staff NcNulty, the department's No. 2 executive.

At a Sept. 6 meeting in Las Vegas, Bogden again told Ward he did not have the resources to take on the case. The meeting ended without a resolution.

A week later, investigators said, Bogden's name appeared on the removal list for the first time, along with U.S. Attorney Paul Charlton of Phoenix, who also had been resisting Ward's entreaties to pursue adult obscenity.

"We believe the primary reason for Bogden's inclusion on the removal list was the complaints by Ward," investigators said. Sampson told investigators he was aware of Ward's complaints but did not recall whether they played a role in the decision to remove Bogden.

"We found Sampson's lack of recall particularly suspect," they said.

Contact Stephens Washington Bureau Chief Steve Tetreault at stetreault@ or 202-783-1760.