Deputy Atty. Gen. David Ogden has said he intended to take the job only one… (Mary Ann Chastain / Associated…)
Reporting from Washington — Deputy Atty. Gen. David Ogden, the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, announced Thursday that he is stepping down after 10 months on the job to return to his private law practice.
Sources at the Justice Department and on Capitol Hill said they had not been given any indication that his departure was imminent, although Ogden had told some that he had always intended to spend only a year or two in the job.
"It was a surprise to me," said one official, speaking on the condition of anonymity. The official added that there did not appear to be a single incident or policy that prompted Ogden to leave.
Others in the Justice Department and Congress, however, said there had been tensions between Ogden and his boss, Atty. Gen. Eric H. Holder Jr. Some sources said Ogden had made some political missteps and seemed to lack the sensitivity to the diverse constituencies of the department to finesse controversial issues.
Ogden reportedly was blamed last month when the New York congressional delegation and the families of Sept. 11 victims were not given notice that the department intended to prosecute the self-proclaimed architect of the attacks and four others in a civilian court in New York.
The controversial decision on the trials has raised concerns about safety and complaints about giving the defendants a soapbox to vent anti-American propaganda.
Some legal experts on Capitol Hill said Ogden also lacked experience in criminal law, which is usually considered a prerequisite for the post.
Sources also noted that Ogden had a baby at home, and the long hours at work, coupled with the late-night calls for search warrants and other matters, were draining.
Ogden, who was confirmed in March, has been responsible for a broad portfolio that included managing day-to-day operations, including overseeing the criminal, national security and civil divisions, in addition to the FBI and other law enforcement agencies.
The Justice Department had no official comment on the reasons for Ogden's departure.
Holder praised his top deputy, saying Ogden "helped reinvigorate the department's traditional missions, restore its reputation for independence, and make the country safer and more secure."
Ogden, 56, is returning to the blue-chip WilmerHale law firm, which he joined in 2001 after serving with Holder in the Clinton administration.
In a statement, Ogden provided few details about why he was leaving. He said his goal all along was to help restore credibility to the Justice Department at a time when it was "under attack and when its traditional law enforcement missions had suffered" during the George W. Bush administration, which was sharply criticized for politicizing what is supposed to be an apolitical department.
Ogden said that with the installation of a "terrific senior management" team, the Justice Department "is in good hands, and I feel I can now return" to private practice.
Ogden said he would stay until Feb. 5 to give President Obama and Holder enough time to name a successor and to ensure a smooth transition.
David Savage in the Washington bureau contributed to this report.