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Originally published May 10, 2007 at 12:00 AM | Page modified May 10, 2007 at 6:16 PM

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Gonzales: McKay's handling of 2004 election raised "concern"

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales acknowledged today there was a "great deal of concern" in some quarters about former U.S. Attorney John McKay's handling...

The Associated Press

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales acknowledged today there was a "great deal of concern" in some quarters about former U.S. Attorney John McKay's handling of election-fraud allegations during the 2004 election in Washington state. But he said he doesn't know if that's why McKay was placed on a list of U.S. attorneys to be fired in March 2005.

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C., Gonzales also said he didn't know if McKay might have been fired because he pushed for additional resources to investigate the slaying of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales.

Kyle Sampson, Gonzales' former chief of staff and the person who compiled the list of prosecutors to be fired, raised the possibility in a closed-door interview with congressional investigators last month that McKay made the list for pushing too hard on the Wales investigation, from which his office is recused. McKay has called that suggestion "mind-numbing." Wales was shot to death as he worked in his basement the night of Oct. 11, 2001.

"If that was a reason why he was included as part of the recommended group, that's something you'd have to ask others involved in this process," Gonzales said in response to questioning from Rep. Mel Watt, D-N.C. "I'm not aware the department, however, is using that as a reason or excuse."

Gonzales said he learned about concerns related to the Wales case "very, very recently."

"Yeah, he wasn't aware of it until Kyle Sampson made it up," McKay said after learning of the attorney general's comments.

Watt pressed Gonzales on whether the real reason McKay made the list were allegations that he should have brought claims of election fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election, won after two recounts by Democrat Chris Gregoire, to a grand jury. Gonzales said he doesn't recall such concerns when he agreed to fire McKay.

"I don't recall that when I accepted the recommendation that that was a reason for it, was his efforts with respect to voter fraud," Gonzales said. "But clearly, going back and looking at the documents, there was a great deal of concern with his efforts with respect to voter fraud because I received a number of letters from groups and outside parties ... "

Watt interrupted: "So you didn't fire him for that reason, but somebody might have put him on the list for that reason. That's really what you're saying, Mr. Attorney General."

"I'm assuming that this committee has spoken with everyone who provided input, and of course the person who was compiling the information, Mr. Sampson, would know better than I," Gonzales replied.

Watt started his questioning by noting that in testimony April 19, Gonzales said McKay was fired for the way he pursued an information-sharing project and for comments he made to the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, citing his concerns about budget cuts and unfilled positions in his office. In reality, McKay's appearance on the March 2005 hit list long predated those issues, which didn't arise until last summer.

"Are you aware of any legitimate reason that John McKay should have been forced out as a United States attorney in March 2005, as opposed to the things you talked about that occurred in 2006?" Watt asked.

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"I would have to go back and look at that, Congressman," Gonzales replied.

Gonzales agreed that it would be improper if McKay were pressured to bring an unwarranted election-fraud investigation, but also suggested there might have been some legitimacy to the claims raised by GOP groups in the state. He said his office did receive several letters complaining about McKay.

At a Seattle University Law School forum Wednesday, McKay said he had concerns about the state's conduct of the 2004 election, but there was no evidence of fraud.

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