Columns » Ernest Dumas

The scandal at Justice

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If the cases of Bud Cummins, Carol Lam and David Iglesias do not merit an obstruction-of-justice investigation of the attorney general and the White House, what about the case of Daniel Bogden, who was considered the very model of a United States attorney until his bosses decided last fall to fire him and trash his reputation?

You know the story of Cummins, the sturdy Arkansas prosecutor who kept his counsel like a loyal Bushie after the White House had him fired to make way for J. Timothy Griffin, a Karl Rove acolyte. A threatening phone call from the Justice Department loosened Cummins’ tongue. Cummins had investigated the Republican governor of Missouri last spring on assignment when Missouri district attorneys recused, and he was told that he was being fired soon after refusing (for a time anyway) an improper request from the governor’s attorney to publicly exonerate his man before a general election in which Republicans faced a rout. U.S. attorneys are not supposed to make public comments like that on investigations.

Lam was prosecuting Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham and Bush administration operatives for corruption in California when she was targeted for firing. Iglesias’s work in New Mexico was so top-notch that the Justice Department was grooming him for promotion until the state’s Republican senator and a congresswoman in a close race with a Democrat complained to the Bush administration that Iglesias would not speed an indictment of Democratic officials before the election to help Republicans.

But mild-mannered Dan Bogden may represent worse treachery. Bogden was known as a publicity-shy but unusually tough prosecutor who went after public corruption diligently but carefully. Like Cummins, he might have been unusually careful in a probe of the rising Republican governor in his state. And like Cummins, Bogden loyally chose to say nothing after his firing in December. That changed when Attorney General Alberto Gonzales swore to Congress that there was no politics behind Bogden’s dismissal and that of seven other U.S. attorneys.

“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,” Bogden recalled to a Nevada newspaper. Bogden was taught to take oaths seriously. When he had inquired around the Justice Department about why he was fired, an associate to Gonzales told him that they wanted to put an ambitious Republican in the office to give him visibility for a run for political office in 2008.

His first notice of his dismissal from his direct boss at the Justice Department was that “we want to move the office in another direction.”

Last week provided a little more evidence that the new direction was away from an investigation of Gov. Jim Gibbons, a former congressman who was close to the Bush administration and who had questionable dealings with federal contractors. Gibbons was under investigation last year when he won a razor-thin race for governor.

While the investigation of Gibbons in the Nevada district attorney’s office seems to have subsided with Bogden’s dismissal, it has picked up elsewhere. The Wall Street Journal reported last week that the FBI was presenting evidence against Gibbons to a District of Columbia grand jury. A defense company hired Gibbons’ wife as a consultant at the same time that it got secret no-bid federal contracts with Gibbons’ help when he was a congressman and member of the Armed Services and Intelligence committees.

The majority owner of the little Reno business, eTreppid Technologies, was a big campaign contributor to Gibbons and the former chief trader for Michael Milken, who was convicted of securities fraud in Wall Street’s biggest insider-trading scandal.

The dirty business began to spill out last year when a former business partner sued the contractor over ownership of valuable software algorithms and alleged that the congressman helped the company win contracts from the departments of Defense and Homeland Security. The congressman took gifts, including jet flights, a Caribbean cruise and casino chips plus $90,000 in campaign donations from firms the contractor held. Then-Congressman Gibbons got his contractor friend access to key men in the federal contracting business like Asa Hutchinson, the undersecretary of transportation and border security at Homeland Security.

Do you smell another Duke Cunningham?

Gibbons was sworn in as governor of Nevada a few weeks after Bogden’s firing. After only three months in office amid unfolding scandal and a demonstrated ineptness at governing that mirrors the Bush administration, Bogden’s approval ratings in Nevada are the same as Bush’s, about 28 percent, and there is talk of recall when the time threshold is met. The White House as yet has not found an ambitious young Republican to take Bogden’s place.

So let’s hear again how Bush’s district attorney firings are no different from Bill Clinton’s replacement of U.S. attorneys in 1993.

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