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September 1, 2014

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Bogden not well known at Justice

WASHINGTON - Three thousand pages of Justice Department e-mails and other documents released this week provide no clearer explanation for the Bush administration's firing of Nevada's U.S. attorney, but do show just how little officials knew about Daniel Bogden before dumping him.

They didn't know, for example, the full explanation behind how he incurred official displeasure over his resistance to tackling an obscenity case.

They didn't know much at all about Bogden's performance, in fact, because they had not bothered to read his performance reviews. They didn't even know how to spell his name, judging by one document that referred to him as "Bodgen."

And, in a huge political gaffe, they badly misjudged how Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., would react to the firing - because they did not know that Ensign had nominated Bogden for the job.

Incomplete or inaccurate information seems to have driven much of the administration's plan to oust Bogden.

The e-mails show that the deputy U.S. attorney general who oversaw the dismissal of Bogden and seven other U.S. attorneys had not even read Bogden's performance report two days before the firings. He later testified before Congress that most of the eight were being let go for performance reasons.

The same operating-in-the-dark scenario unfolded in the obscenity case, one of the more intriguing story lines that emerges from the voluminous records released.

Earlier this month, Bogden told reporters that the Justice Department's new porn prosecutor had asked him to prosecute an adult obscenity case. Bogden, citing a staffing crunch, responded by saying he needed more time to investigate, an explanation that won him an extension until after Jan. 1, when two new attorneys were coming on board.

But the e-mails show that Bogden's explanation and plea for more time also won him the enmity of the Justice Department's top porn prosecutor, Brent Ward.

After Ward had requested a Las Vegas meeting to discuss the situation, Bogden reiterated that "severe manning and personnel shortages" made it unlikely he could devote resources to the case.

"We have very limited to no capacity to undertake such a prosecutive matter with what we currently have going on," he wrote in an August e-mail.

In an e-mail the next day, Ward complained to others that the department's obscenity initiative was "heading for disaster" because of defiance from Bogden and the U.S. attorney in Arizona, who also was subsequently fired. If the attorneys did not prosecute the cases, the FBI would back off its investigations, Ward warned.

"For the FBI people to go to LV and sit and listen to the lame excuses of a defiant U.S. attorney is only going to move this whole enterprise closer to catastrophe," Ward wrote.

Bogden said Tuesday the characterization of him as "defiant" was "just flat wrong."

"He hadn't even been to my office to visit me yet," Bogden said from his Reno home. "This was one single adult obscenity case. The case needed a lot of investigative work."

While top Justice Department officials seemed to view Bogden's staffing lament as simply an excuse for not immediately plunging into the obscenity case, more thorough research would have shown otherwise. Ensign, in fact, said last week that Bogden's office was down about 15 percent of its attorneys.

Their unfamiliarity with Bogden's performance left Justice officials scrambling for a plausible explanation for his dismissal.

One document - the one that misspells Bogden's name - shows Justice officials changing their story from a performance-related dismissal to one triggered by a desire for new energy in the office. The "leadership assessment" document shows some words being crossed out and other suggestions being scribbled in as officials apparently tried to craft an explanation that would fly.

For example, the document initially said, "Very important district being underserved (Las Vegas target for terrorism; violent crime; drugs/organized crime)." That sentence, along with a portion of another alleged deficiency in Bogden's office, was crossed out, while a handwritten note offered a different spin: "Lack of energy and leadership for highly visible district with serious crime issues."

Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid seized on the e-mails and other documents Tuesday as Democrats continued their assault on the Bush administration's unprecedented midterm firing of the eight U.S. attorneys. Even though prosecutors serve at the pleasure of the president, they have never before been fired en masse midterm.

Senate Democrats and some Republicans worry the White House was seeking to fill the U.S. attorney offices with allies, taking advantage of a loophole in last year's renewal of the Patriot Act that allows the attorney general to make appointments without Senate confirmation.

One of the dismissed attorneys was fired to make way for a former aide to Bush adviser Karl Rove. Bogden testified before Congress that he was told he was being dismissed to clear the way so a newcomer could bolster his resume.

The Senate voted 94-2 last Wednesday to remove the loophole. Ensign, who has been one of the Republicans' fiercest critics over the firings, voted with the majority to revoke the attorney general's authority.

Half of the fired attorneys, including Bogden, were pursuing public corruption cases, and some lawmakers suspect they were dismissed for going after Republicans or not pursuing Democrats.

One previously released e-mail, written by an aide to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, measured U.S. attorneys - and whether they should be retained - based on whether they were "loyal Bushies."

Reid read aloud to reporters at a weekly press briefing an e-mail in which Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said he felt "skittish" about listing Bogden among the attorneys to be dismissed.

"I'll admit I have not looked at his district's performance," McNulty wrote two days before the firings.

Reid said in the Justice officials' determination to "dump Bogden, they hadn't even bothered to look at how he was performing."

"Every U.S. attorney that they dumped I'm sure the same could apply as Bogden: They hadn't even looked at what they were doing," Reid added. "They just knew they had some of Karl Rove's folks they had to find a place to hide."

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