Sen. John Ensign, R-Nev., on Tuesday denounced the dismissal of the U.S. attorney in Las Vegas as "completely mishandled by the United States attorney general."
"I'm calling on the president of the United States and the attorney general to restore Dan Bogden's reputation," Ensign said at a Capitol Hill news conference during which he blistered Justice Department officials and defended Bogden as a "fine man" and excellent prosecutor.
Ensign, who does not often criticize the Bush administration in public, stopped short of calling for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales or other Justice Department officials to resign. His angry comments came as controversy mounted over the Justice Department's firings of eight federal prosecutors, including Bogden, during a White House-directed housecleaning of U.S. attorneys.
Critics say the fate of the prosecutors who were dismissed last year appeared to have been politically motivated. Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike said they were outraged that Justice Department officials weren't forthcoming on how the firings unfolded - even when asked under oath by Congress.
"I was either intentionally misled or someone was misinformed," said Ensign, who nominated Bogden for the U.S. attorney job in 2001. The senator was referring to conversations he had with Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty.
Ensign said McNulty gave him shifting explanations about why Bogden was ousted. Finally he was told that Bogden wasn't aggressive enough in prosecuting terrorism and obscenity cases, Ensign said.
Ensign said he then learned that Bogden had never been informed of the concerns about his priorities.
"I was flabbergasted when I heard this," Ensign said, calling it "a complete lack of management oversight."
Ensign didn't specify how Bogden's reputation could be restored. He said he would wait to see what Gonzales proposes.
Ensign said Gonzales has made a commitment to him to fix the U.S. attorney's appointment process. Ensign said he supported undoing a change in the Patriot Act that took effect a year ago, which lets the attorney general appoint federal prosecutors indefinitely without Senate confirmation.
On Monday, White House spokeswoman Dana Perino acknowledged that complaints about the job performance of prosecutors occasionally
came to the White House and were passed on to the Justice Department, perhaps including some informally from Bush to Gonzales.
Some of the prosecutors who were fired have said they felt pressured by powerful Republicans in their home states to rush investigations of potential voter fraud involving Democrats.
However, Bogden is not one of those, and he had excellent performance reviews and a stellar reputation, Ensign said.
"Everyone in Nevada thought Dan had done a superb job," Ensign said.
"I believe a very good man was wronged and a process was flawed, he said.
Ensign said he "emphatically" did not believe that the ousting of the prosecutors had anything to do with public corruption investigations they were involved with. The FBI has been probing Gov. Jim Gibbons' associations with a longtime friend who's a wealthy federal contractor.
(Copyright 2007 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)