McKay made firing list in March '05; was Wales killing a factor?
Former U.S. Attorney John McKay's name was on a list of federal prosecutors to be fired in March 2005, 18 months earlier than previously...
AP Legal Affairs Writer
Former U.S. Attorney John McKay's name was on a list of federal prosecutors to be fired in March 2005, 18 months earlier than previously reported, according to a document released by the House Judiciary Committee today.
And during a hearing in the nation's capital, a committee member suggested McKay might have made the list, drawn up by the attorney general's then-chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, for requesting "some action" by the Justice Department with regard to the unsolved 2001 killing of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales.
In questioning former Deputy Attorney General James Comey, Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C., said: "It was suggested that Mr. Sampson had concerns or that concerns had been raised ... relating to the murder of an assistant U.S. attorney named Thomas Wales, in which Mr. McKay had requested some action by the department."
The suggestion was raised while Comey's predecessor, Larry Thompson, served as deputy attorney general, Watt said.
Comey responded: "I don't remember discussing that tragedy with anyone other than Mr. McKay, and it was simply briefly to talk to him about how awful it was. He cared very passionately about finding the person who killed his assistant U.S. attorney."
Wales was killed the night of Oct. 11, 2001, just a few weeks before McKay was sworn in as U.S. attorney for Seattle. The Seattle U.S. attorney's office has been recused from the Wales investigation.
Thompson served as Bush's deputy attorney general until mid-2003, when he was replaced by Comey. Comey served until 2005.
McKay's appearance on the list in March 2005 would have been contemporaneous with Republican challenges to the closely contested 2004 governor's election in Washington state, won by Democrat Chris Gregoire. Many supporters of the GOP candidate, Dino Rossi, angrily believed that McKay did not do enough to investigate their claims of voter fraud — something McKay disputes.
Watt could not immediately be reached for elaboration on his line of questioning, but his press secretary, Corey Little, said he believed the suggestion had been raised during Sampson's closed-door interview with the committee.
McKay was one of eight federal prosecutors ordered to resign last year in a controversial purge. The shifting rationales offered by the Bush administration for the firings have raised questions about whether they were improperly motivated.
McKay said today he was stunned to hear Wales' name brought up during the hearing, and to learn he was considered for termination 18 months earlier that previously known.
"I'm just sick to my stomach. That's the first I've heard of it," he said. "Of course I was on a number of occasions, sometimes passionately, pushing for appropriate resources and appropriate attention on the Wales investigation.
"I would be stunned to learn somebody back there put me on a list to be fired because I was pushing on the Wales investigation. This one is bizarre and insulting. It's insulting to Tom's family and my office and the people who cared about Tom."
Previously, the earliest McKay's name appeared on the list of U.S. attorneys to be fired was last September — about a month after Sampson had tried to help him win a federal judgeship in Seattle.
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