The day former U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden packed his office and left the federal courthouse, he fully expected a phone call from the Department of Justice announcing a permanent replacement.
That date, Feb. 28, passed with no word. And to his surprise, so did March 28.
“We’re already at the end of March,” Bogden said last week. “It has been two months (since he announced his departure date). The office is heading into a state of flux.”
Bogden’s first assistant, Steve Myhre, was named acting U.S. attorney. But while praising Myhre, Bogden said the office could be hamstrung by an acting attorney as opposed to an interim or permanent U.S. attorney.
Acting attorneys do not have the authority to make budget or personnel decisions unilaterally. Bogden assumed the Justice Department had a permanent replacement in mind when it fired him on Dec. 7.
“You lose a lot of traction when you have a change in management,” Bogden, 51, said. “I couldn’t think of a better replacement for me in Steve Myhre, but he doesn’t have the full authority of a USA (U.S. attorney) to do hirings and personnel actions.”
Bogden was one of seven U.S. attorneys dismissed on Dec. 7, a move that has set off a firestorm of criticism, much of it directed at Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
When Bogden left office in February, he said he had fewer resources to handle a population that had exploded over the five years he served in office. The office had 38 attorneys at the start of the year when it should have had 46 attorneys, he said.
“We could go up to 60 attorneys, and we couldn’t keep up with the growth in the state,” Bogden said. “We were just trying to keep the lights on in the place.”
The Department of Justice boosted the Nevada district’s budget the same month Bogden left office. Bogden said the funding was enough to fill those vacancies, but that is more difficult to do with an acting attorney.
“Suddenly in 2007, there seems to be a light at the end of the tunnel,” Bogden said.
Myhre said Department of Justice policies prohibit him from speaking about his duties or the morale of the office. He could not discuss the U.S. attorney’s office’s budget or an increase in funding that Bogden said the department received this year.
Myhre confirmed that the Justice Department recently approved the hiring of five new attorneys.
“We’ve been given authority to hire attorneys,” Myhre said, confirming that tight budgets in past years caused the vacancies. “I don’t see any danger of not being able to prosecute cases.”
How long the controversy surrounding the dismissed U.S. attorneys will continue is unclear. Gonzales is not scheduled to testify before the Senate Judiciary Committee until April 17.
Sen. John Ensign, who nominated Bogden for the top job in 2001, is collecting a list of new nominees.
Whether a new U.S. attorney will be named before the proceedings before members of the Senate is unclear.