E-mail complaints show Ward's frustration with smut campaign

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Posted: 12:00 PM- WASHINGTON - In a frank e-mail exchange, Brent Ward complained to senior Justice Department officials about resistance from several U.S. Attorneys to prosecuting obscenity cases.

Those complaints apparently contributed to the later, now controversial firings of prosecutors Daniel Bogden in Nevada and Paul Charlton in Arizona.

Ward, the head of a federal obscenity task force, wrote that the opposition was eroding interest from the FBI and jeopardizing the still-fledgling initiative.

The former U.S. Attorney in Utah went so far as to ask Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to weigh in and order the prosecutors to pursue the cases.

Ward's complaints later were cited as a reason for the terminations of Bogden and Charlton, according to a trove of documents the Justice Department has turned over to Congress.

The firings of those two U.S. Attorneys and six others have touched off a political fracas, and set the stage for a potential constitutional showdown. Democrats in Congress want to compel White House aides to testify and President Bush promises to aggressively fight any subpoenas.

Ward's e-mails reveal the tension often met by prosecutors and FBI officials who see higher priorities than cracking down on smut.

"It has now been more than 10 months since I arrived here. In that time two cases have been indicted. Only one of them was initiated by the FBI. In light of this the Task Force would have to be considered a failure so far," Ward wrote in an e-mail last August.

Ward complains that - after similar resistance in a California case, and after sitting in a meeting with Charlton and watching him "thumb his nose at us," - the Bureau "knew this obscenity initiative could be heading for disaster."

An 18-count federal indictment was filed in federal court in Arizona against Five Star Video and several others last May, alleging it distributed four different obscene videos through the mail. The trial is scheduled for April.

After months of prodding, Ward eventually succeeded in convincing top Justice Department officials to direct Charlton to appoint a prosecutor from his office to work with Ward's office on the case.

A table the Justice Department provided to Congress to explain the firings of Charlton and Bogden references both prosecutors' unwillingness to pursue obscenity cases, one of Gonzales' priorities.