Was McKay ousted over 2004 election?
Two months after John McKay was fired as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, the reason for his dismissal remains a mystery...
Seattle Times staff reporter
Two months after John McKay was fired as U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, the reason for his dismissal remains a mystery.
One of the most persistent rumors in Seattle legal circles is that the Justice Department forced McKay, a Republican, to resign to appease Washington state Republicans angry over the 2004 governor's race. Some believe McKay's dismissal was retribution for his failure to convene a federal grand jury to investigate allegations of voter fraud in the race.
McKay was appointed by President Bush in October 2001.
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation filed a formal complaint with U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales in 2005 about what it considered McKay's lax oversight of the election, in which Democratic Gov. Christine Gregoire defeated Republican Dino Rossi by 129 votes. Many influential Republicans publicly criticized McKay.
But a Justice Department official on Thursday rejected the idea and said Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has repeatedly insisted politics did not influence the controversial firings of McKay and six other U.S. attorneys in December.
McNulty had previously said the firings were "performance-related" despite the fact McKay received a positive evaluation seven months before he was fired.
McKay said he was not given a reason when he was asked to step down.
McNulty defended the dismissals during private briefings with a handful of senators Wednesday.
Democrats were not mollified.
"There was nothing that was said to me ... that I found was a credible reason for dismissing" McKay, said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.
Murray said McNulty did not detail what was lacking in McKay's work.
"They gave some general things, alluded to things, but gave me nothing specific," she said.
Sen. Charles Schumer, D-N.Y., also said McNulty wasn't telling the whole story.
"I am not satisfied with the answers we've gotten. There are just too many holes in too many different places," he said.
The Justice Department official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, accused Democrats of mischaracterizing the briefings because they didn't agree with the department's conclusions.
"Any suggestion that we were not thorough or forthcoming is just political gamesmanship," the official said.
Senate Republicans blocked a bill Thursday that would curb the Justice Department's power to fire and replace federal prosecutors. Democrats had sought to give the courts a role in the appointments of U.S. attorneys.
Democrats believe the White House was trying to use a new provision in the Patriot Act to get around the Senate confirmation process and install Republican allies as U.S. attorneys.
McKay has always had strong support among moderate Republicans such as King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, who spoke out on his behalf earlier this month.
But many conservative Republicans have been incensed with McKay since the 2004 governor's race.
Tom McCabe, executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington, summarized the complaints in a BIAW newsletter after McKay announced in December he was stepping down.
In a column titled "Good Riddance," McCabe said McKay "had a disastrous six years as U.S. Attorney. Two years ago, he steadfastly refused to investigate voter fraud despite overwhelming evidence." McCabe also said he had "urged the President to fire McKay."
McCabe could not be reached for comment Thursday.
Republicans argued that illegal votes by felons and others, and errors in the election count, cost Rossi the race.
Emily Langlie, a spokeswoman for the U.S. Attorney's Office in Seattle, said that in 2004 and 2005 prosecutors and the FBI jointly monitored the election.
"We not only had senior people within our office coordinating our investigation, but we worked jointly with the Department of Justice's Public Integrity section," she said.
Diane Tebelius, who was chairwoman of the Washington State Republican Party when McKay was asked to step down, acknowledged that many Republicans had been upset with McKay after the 2004 election.
But Tebelius said no one from the Justice Department or the White House contacted her about McKay in the months before he was dismissed, and she doubts anyone lobbied for his ouster because of the 2004 race.
"I do not believe anybody in this state would have asked for his resignation," Tebelius said.
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