David Kurtz

David Kurtz is Managing Editor and Washington Bureau Chief of Talking Points Memo where he oversees the news operations of TPM and its sister sites.

Articles by David

Daniel Bogden, the U.S. Attorney for Nevada until his ouster by the Bush Administration, sat down this week for an interview with the Las Vegas Sun, and doesn't pull many punches.

We pick up after the December 7 phone call in which he was asked to resign:

[Bogden] started asking questions, and finally reached acting - Associate Attorney General William Mercer, the No. 3 man at Justice. . . .

"He says, 'The administration has a short two-year window of opportunity where they can get candidates out to your positions, where they can get the resume together, they can have the experience of the U.S. attorney in their background that would make them a more viable candidate for future judgeships, for political office.' " . . .

At least, that's what he was told behind the scenes.

Initially, Bogden didn't talk to the media:

Then Gonzales testified before Congress. "He raises his right hand and he says this isn't political, this isn't political, this isn't political, and I knew damn well it was political."

Next, McNulty testified that the firings were related to "unspecified performance issues."

One of those alleged performance-related issues was Bogden's refusal to take an obscenity case being pushed by Brent Ward, the head of Justice's Obscenity Prosecution Task Force. Bogden recounts the episode:

Last year Ward and some of his team came to an adult video awards conference in Las Vegas.

"They go in there, and in their super-sleuthing work, they come up with the name of an individual who may be selling obscene videos over the Internet," Bogden said. . . .

Ward's team wanted to send a message and wanted Bogden to take it on.

He declined, citing the weakness of the case, and staff levels at his office, which had declined under the Bush administration despite Nevada's growth.

Then the e-mails emerged recently revealing Ward's harsh words about him.

"It just enraged me," Bogden said. "You see those e-mails and the things they say about me and the other attorneys, people who are very respected. And they are just demeaning and belittling and unprofessional."

A lack of professionalism within the crew running the Justice Department is not the worst of the many offenses committed in this scandal, but it is one of the reasons--perhaps the primary reason--so many people from both sides of the aisle have been so appalled by what has emerged thus far. It's not just that the department's explanations for why the USAs were dismissed don't stand up to any scrutiny or that this whole affair has all the hallmarks of a political purge. Both of those things are true. But the lack of professionalism at the highest levels of the department signals to those familiar with how things used to work at DOJ that long-held standards of conduct have been breached.

Once that breach occurs, anything can happen.

Late update: The L.A. Times goes looking for answers on the Bogden firing and comes up empty.

Rep. Chris Cannon (R-UT) puts it right out there: There is "nothing wrong with firing a U.S. attorney for the reason of politics."

The WaPo looks into why Margaret Chiara, the ousted U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Michigan, made the list of the Gonzales 8--and comes up with no compelling answers.

Democratic senators want to know more about why the President shut down the internal Justice Department investigation into warrantless wiretapping.

The conviction of Stephen Griles, the Interior Department's former No. 2 official, shows why Congress just might want transcripts of any interviews with White House officials about the U.S. attorney purge.

Many of you have probably already seen this, but I just want to flag it for future reference:

The Justice Department also said yesterday that Monica Goodling, a senior counselor to Gonzales who worked closely with Sampson on the firings, took an indefinite personal leave from her job on Monday. A Justice official said that she is still employed there but that it is not clear when she will return.

Goodling was the DOJ liaison to the White House.

KSTP-TV in St. Paul broadcast a nice investigative piece last night on what is being called the "coronation" of the new U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Rachel Paulose.

Since the purge scandal broke, Minnesota readers of TPM have been insisting that we look more closely at the interim appointment of Paulose and her eventual confirmation by the Senate. Paulose was just 33 years old at the time of her appointment. Her previous experience has included time in DOJ's Civil Rights Division and a stint as senior counsel to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, for two months before her interim appointment, according to the Star-Tribune.

Aside from being one of the legal neophytes with strong connections to Bush political appointees at Main Justice who, as McClatchy reported, has landed U.S. attorney positions in the past year, I haven't seen anything yet connecting Paulose directly to the purge, although the circumstances of her predecessor's resignation remain murky.

Still, there's plenty of smoke there. For instance, the Star-Tribune noted that her Senate confirmation was almost derailed because, though Paulose had Administration backing, "she and her supporters had neglected to seek the support of both home-state senators," an oversight so unbelievable as to suggest that perhaps the Administration did not originally intend to submit her nomination for Senate approval but rather planned to rely on the attorney general's appointment authority under the Patriot Act. You can find more on Paulose here.

Regardless, the KSTP report shows that her lack of experience didn't keep Paulose from putting on the dog at her swearing-in, complete with honor guard and choir. There was also reportedly a list compiled of "potential problem reporters" who might attend the event. In an interview with the station, Paulose bobbed and weaved when questioned about the existence of such a list.

It's quite a good report, so go take a look.

A key aspect of the U.S. attorney purge that often seems to get overlooked--by those who argue that the firings were business as usual and no different from the removal of USAs at the beginning of a president's term--is the change to the Patriot Act that was quietly inserted by Sen. Arlen Specter at the behest of the Justice Department.

As close followers of the scandal know, the Patriot Act provision, in essence, transferred the power to appoint interim USAs from the federal district courts to the attorney general and allowed the attorney general to install interim USAs indefinitely, thereby bypassing the Senate confirmation process.

Only the naive or willfully blind would see the Patriot Act amendment as a distinct and separate action from the purge itself. Indeed, vesting such powers in the attorney general was a predicate to the purge, and was one of the very first indications, at least to everyone here at TPM, that the removal of the eight U.S. attorneys was not some random act or unrelated series of acts but a deliberately conceived and executed plan that required time to develop and numerous participants to implement. Otherwise, the Senate confirmation process would have made installing political hacks as USAs difficult and would have provided supporters of the ousted prosecutors with a ready-made platform to challenge the removals publicly.

So when William Moschella, who is now the principal deputy attorney general, recently told McClatchy "that he pursued the changes on his own, without the knowledge or coordination of his superiors at the Justice Department or anyone at the White House," the purpose of his comments was to decouple the Patriot Act provision from the purge itself. Since Moschella was, at the time he pursued the Patriot Act changes, just a mid-level assistant attorney general for legislative affairs, we were supposed to believe that simply because B (the purge) followed A (the Patriot Act change), doesn't mean A caused B or was in any way related to B.

But wait.

From the document dump last night, we learn, again from McClatchy, that Moschella sent an email to other Justice Department officials way back in November 2005 announcing support for the change to the law. Paul has more.

So contrary to earlier assertions, the attorney general was involved in the firings, and higher-ups in the Justice Department knew about the Patriot Act provision.

No surprise there, really. But keep this in mind. Everything the Justice Department has said that later turned out to be false was almost certainly known by the White House to be false, at the time the false statements were made, to the media, and most importantly, to Congress.

Let that sink in.