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November 27, 2014

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Wrong kind of help

WASHINGTON - Attorney General Alberto Gonzales called Nevada's fired U.S. Attorney Daniel Bogden at home shortly after his last day in office to offer support and assistance in finding the career prosecutor a new job. Bogden had just one request: He asked for his old job back.

In two phone conversations, March 13 and 16, Bogden told his former boss that he believed the reasons he was fired were unfounded and his greatest desire was to return to work.

"I told him I don't think the request to step down was justified," Bogden said Thursday from his Reno home as Gonzales testified on Capitol Hill. "My one desire would be to be reinstated as U.S. attorney for the District of Nevada."

Gonzales told the Senate Judiciary Committee that he reached out to Bogden but not the other prosecutors who were fired last year in an unprecedented purge that now threatens the attorney general's job. Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy, a Vermont Democrat, called the circumstances surrounding the firings a leadership crisis perhaps unrivaled in the history of the Justice Department.

Gonzales told the panel he called Bogden to offer his help in moving on with his career.

"If there was anything I could do to help him, I wanted to do that because I struggled as well with the decision," Gonzales testified.

Gonzales had met days earlier with Nevada Republican Sen. John Ensign, who had been outraged about the Justice Department's changing story line about the dismissals. That week Democrats and at least one Republican senator began calling on Gonzales to resign.

Ensign came short of calling for Gonzales' dismissal at the time. But at a news conference March 13 the senator said his support for Gonzales hinged on how well the attorney general responded to Ensign's demand to restore Bogden's reputation. Ensign suggested that the Justice Department reinstate Bogden or find him a job elsewhere.

In Gonzales' six hours of testimony Thursday, Bogden's firing received less than three minutes of attention - virtually none of it offering new insight about why the prosecutor's 16-year career came to an abrupt end.

"This is probably the one that to me, in hindsight, was the closest call," Gonzales told the panel as he sat under bright lights amid the constant shutter-click of cameras. Gonzales repeated minor concerns within the department about the Nevadan's reluctance to take on an adult obscenity case, and Justice's desire to bring new energy to the Nevada office.

"I do not recall what I knew about Mr. Bogden on Dec. 7," the date of the firing, Gonzales testified. "I didn't have an independent basis or recollection for knowing about Mr. Bogden's performance."

Gonzales delegated the job of deciding which attorneys to fire to then- Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson, who he said he believed would canvass senior management.

Senators from both parties countered that Sampson and the other senior managers have testified that they did not compile lists, leaving an exasperated Democratic Sen. Dianne Feinstein of California to blurt after hours of testimony: "Who selected the individuals? A human being had to."

Gonzales apparently knew little about Bogden at the time of the firing, and had not read his most recent performance reviews, which had been highly favorable. Gonzales suggested that he had pieced together the circumstances after the fact.

"Going back and looking at the documents, it appears there were concerns about the level of energy generally in a fast-growing district and just generally getting a sense of new energy in that office ."

Still, he stood by the decision to fire Bogden.

"I regret we didn't have a face to face meeting with Mr. Bogden before hand to let him know," Gonzales said. "Nonetheless in thinking about it, I believe it is still the right decision."

In an interview Thursday, Bogden said that when he first asked for his job back, he got the impression that would not be possible. So he and Gonzales decided to talk again in a few days, after Bogden assessed the situation.

When they spoke later that week, Bogden told the attorney general he had given it "a lot of long, hard thought" but being reinstated was all he wanted.

"I got the impression he didn't want to revisit that decision," Bogden said.

Ensign's office said Thursday that the time for the Justice Department to fulfill its commitment to restore Bogden's reputation was "very short."

Nevada's Democrats in Congress, Sen. Harry Reid and Rep. Shelley Berkley, have called on Gonzales to resign.

"It is mind-blowing that Gonzales said he didn't even know why he fired Dan Bogden," Reid spokesman Jon Summers said.

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