WASHINGTON — After being released as the chief federal prosecutor in Nevada late last year for reasons that never became clear, Dan Bogden wanted nothing more than to clear his name and get his old job back.
In three telephone conversations this spring, Bogden made the case to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that he was let go for no good reason. Although Gonzales refused to reinstate him as U.S. attorney, other jobs remained possible.
But in the meantime, Congress was uncovering damaging evidence of mismanagement in the unusual mid-term firings of Bogden and eight other U.S. attorneys, and other problems with politics inside the Department of Justice.
The accumulating allegations led to the resignations of seven top Justice officials, a shattering of morale, and increasing pressure for the attorney general to step down.
Watching all this unfold as he sat in Nevada, Bogden made a note to himself that perhaps returning to the Justice Department was not such a hot idea.
“I reached the conclusion that under the current leadership it would just not be a good fit for me going back,” said Bogden, who has been interviewing for new jobs. “I took that off the table in my mind as to what I would do with my future.”
On Monday, Gonzales announced the end of his controversial two-year tenure as attorney general.
To his critics and some of his allies, it was a wonder he lasted as long as he did even as President Bush continued to defend him.
Bogden said he thought the resignation “was a good decision by the attorney general. It had come to a point now where I think folks in Congress and the Senate had lost confidence and respect for the attorney general, and the public and even with some members of the Justice Department there were concerns about him.”
Sen. Harry Reid, D-Nev., said Gonzales was a weak leader who “was never the right man for this job.”
“He lacked independence, he lacked judgment, and he lacked the spine to say no to Karl Rove,” Reid said.
Democrats have suspected Rove, who announced his departure as a top White House adviser earlier this month, was behind the U.S. attorney firings. The White House has invoked executive privilege preventing him from testifying before congressional committees.
“His resignation is not the end of the story,” Reid said of Gonzales. “Congress must get to the bottom of this mess and follow the facts where they lead, into the White House.”
Four Nevada lawmakers, including Reid, had publicly called for Gonzales to quit or be fired.
“He should have been gone months ago, and I am glad for the good of the country that he is finally seeing fit to end this embarrassment and resign,” said Rep. Shelley Berkley, D-Nev.
Gonzales, who had a long association as Bush’s legal adviser in Texas and in the White House, “never understood what his job was” as attorney general, Berkley said. “He did not appreciate that his loyalties should be to the Constitution and to the people of this country, and not just one man.”
Reps. Jon Porter and Dean Heller, both Nevada Republicans, also called for Gonzales to quit for his handling of the U.S. attorney firings, and particularly for letting go of Bogden, a political independent who had gotten good job reviews.
Gonzales’ problems to some extent were self-inflicted, Heller said, because he failed to satisfy queries about the fired prosecutors.
“Questions were not answered or could not be answered or were not perceived as being answered truthfully,” he said.
Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., was incensed over the treatment of Bogden, who he had handpicked for the post in 2001. But Ensign held his tongue on calling for Gonzales to resign. Instead, he tried to help Bogden find new work in the department and pressed Gonzales to add prosecutorial staff in Nevada and to revamp how U.S. attorneys are evaluated.
In June, Ensign announced Gonzales had authorized filling seven attorney vacancies in the Nevada office.
“Obviously the way he handled the whole U.S. attorney thing was a complete debacle. I don’t know if it was a lack of management skills. In that regard I don’t think he served the president or the country well.”
Bogden has not yet been replaced, as the White House is weighing three potential nominees suggested by Ensign. Steve Myrhe, Bogden’s one-time deputy, is serving as acting head of the U.S. attorney’s office in Nevada.