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Odds look good on U.S. attorney general joining unemployment line

John L. Smith

Dan Bogden never struck me as a betting man. During his more than five years as Nevada’s U.S. attorney, Bogden displayed the kind of professional, conservative demeanor people have come to expect from the chief federal prosecutor.

He was so focused on following the rules that he seldom granted interviews and was rarely quoted in the press despite all the big cases his office took on during his tenure. He was so politically prudent and under the radar that you might have suspected he was working undercover.

When his years of hard work and loyal service were rewarded late last year with an abrupt termination despite positive reviews, it was just like Bogden to withhold comment. Meanwhile, Department of Justice officials jockeyed for position and stammered out the first of several versions of events that supposedly led to the decision to fire a total of eight U.S. attorneys, most of them in Western states.

That ineptitude combined with outright lies have not only embarrassed the Bush administration at the worst possible time, but have helped turn Attorney General Alberto Gonzales into a caricature of the out-of-touch bureaucrat.

Although Democrats were initially blamed for fanning the flames of the U.S. attorneys story, the fact is Republicans in increasing numbers are openly criticizing the decision. And that was before the Justice Department on Monday handed to Congress documents detailing the decision-making process and the role of Gonzales and his staff as well as White House officials in the firing scandal.

You expect the Democrats to eye his scalp and attempt to drag out the scandal by calling the key players before the Senate Judiciary Committee. When committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont charges that he’s “sick and tired of getting half-truths on this,” the GOP’s media talking heads will implore loyalists to consider the source and remind everyone that the Clinton administration fired every U.S. attorney in the country when it took office.

But now even Republican members of the committee are snarling.

“I’ve told the attorney general that I think this has been mishandled, that by giving inaccurate information … at the outset, it’s caused a real firestorm, and he better get the facts out fast,” Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said Sunday.

That’s what Gonzales’ allies are saying.

What are his White House friends saying?

White House press secretary Tony Snow told reporters Monday the president has “confidence” in Gonzales, then added a less-than-convincing, “We hope he stays.”

That kind of air-kiss affection is usually reserved for high school yearbook signings. “You’re a real cool dude, Alberto. Never change, and have a great summer. We hope you stay.”

Gonzales, of course, serves at the pleasure of the president, who decides whether he stays.

Perhaps what Snow really meant was, “We hope this whole amateurish mess cools down soon.”

That’s unlikely to happen with the apparent abuse of the USA Patriot Act and embarrassing e-mail already contradicting Gonzales’ version of the events that led to the firings. Add to that the news that e-mail to the White House counsel’s office from Gonzales’ chief of staff Kyle Sampson – who is now standing behind Bogden in the unemployment line after his recent resignation – makes the department look like it was playing petty politics with San Diego U.S. Attorney Carol Lam.

We now know Lam was in the middle of prosecuting Republican Congressman Randy “Duke” Cunningham on corruption charges when she became a target for termination.

Sampson might yet have to explain what he meant when he compared the supposedly “underperforming” U.S. attorneys with those who “are doing a great job, are loyal Bushies.”

All of which brings us back to Bogden.

He might not be a betting man, but I’ll wager he’s tempted to place a few bucks on a proposition that’s floating at online betting site Intrade.com, which places Gonzales’ odds of surviving in his job through the end of the month at 47 percent.

“A resignation does not have to result in the actual departure by the contract expiry date but rather the announcement of the resignation must be made and not rejected by that time/date,” the site said. “The contract will not be expired if a tendered resignation is not accepted.

“A Departure/Resignation may be ‘forced’ or ‘voluntary.'”

The smart money is on “forced” and soon.

• John L. Smith’s column, reprinted from the Las Vegas Review-Journal, appears on Thursdays on the Appeal’s Opinion page. E-mail him at smith@reviewjournal.com or call (702) 383-0295.