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Originally published September 30, 2008 at 12:00 AM | Page modified September 30, 2008 at 11:07 AM

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Report: Ex-U.S. Attorney John McKay likely fired because he angered his boss

A Justice Department report on the firings of former U.S. Attorney John McKay of Washington and eight of his colleagues by the Bush administration in 2006 concludes that McKay was likely fired because he angered his boss, although investigators could not conclude that politics played a role.

Seattle Times staff reporter

A Justice Department report on the firings of former U.S. Attorney John McKay of Western Washington and eight of his colleagues by the Bush administration concludes that McKay was likely dismissed because he angered his boss, although investigators could not rule out that politics played a role.

However, the report found that the firings of three other U.S. attorneys likely were politically driven.

Attorney General Michael Mukasey announced he had appointed a special prosecutor to determine whether any crimes were committed by his predecessor, former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, or others in the Justice Department or White House in connection with the firings.

At various times, department officials have said that McKay was fired in 2006 for his office's allegedly lax sentencing practices, his failure to open a criminal investigation into voter fraud after Washington's 2004 gubernatorial race, or because he pushed too hard to secure resources to investigate the slaying of Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales of Seattle.

Clash over system

But the most likely reason for his removal was a disagreement with his former boss, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, over McKay's zealous support of a controversial law-enforcement data-sharing system, according to the report released Monday.

"We were not able to conclude, based on the evidence, whether complaints about McKay's handling of voter-fraud cases either did or did not contribute to his removal as U.S. Attorney," said the report.

"However, the evidence suggests that the primary reason for McKay's removal was his clash" with McNulty over the information-sharing program, the report says.

The details of McKay's removal are contained in the blistering report on the 2006 firings of the nine U.S. attorneys issued Monday morning by the Department of Justice's Office of Inspector General.

"Haphazard, arbitrary"

"The report makes plain that, at a minimum, the process by which nine U.S. attorneys were removed in 2006 was haphazard, arbitrary and unprofessional, and the way in which the Justice Department handled those removals and the resulting public controversy was profoundly lacking," Mukasey said in a statement.

McKay was among nine U.S. attorneys who were asked to resign by officials in the Department of Justice, which at the time was run by Gonzales, a longtime friend and confidant of President Bush.

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McKay and David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico, who also was fired, have said they believe the White House was behind the firings.

On Monday, McKay said the report shows the Justice Department "engaged in an after-the-fact effort to find a reason to justify my dismissal and then they lied about it."

"None of it surprises me, but that doesn't mean I like to read it. It's very disappointing," said McKay, who now teaches law at Seattle University.

The firings mired the Justice Department in scandal and led to resignations last year of many top agency leaders, including Gonzales.

Congress has spent more than a year investigating whether partisanship played a role in the ousters.

U.S. attorneys are political appointees who serve at the pleasure of the president but can't be fired for improper reasons.

The dispute is also playing out in the courts where the House Judiciary Committee is suing to enforce subpoenas against ex-White House Counsel Harriet Miers and Joshua Bolten, Bush's chief of staff, for testimony and documents about the discharges.

The report concluded that Gonzales was primarily to blame for the episode. It also called into question his candor to investigators and lawmakers.

Gonzales had "an extraordinary lack of recollection about the entire removal process," the report said.

"Most remarkable" was the report's assessment of Gonzales' congressional testimony in which he didn't remember a November 2006 meeting in his conference room where he approved the dismissals.

McKay's name was placed on the removal list in September 2006 after he clashed with McNulty over a law-enforcement information-sharing system called LInX that McKay had championed, according to the report.

In June, McKay and McNulty sat through a "contentious" meeting over the system and in late August McKay wrote and distributed an e-mail, signed by 17 other U.S. attorneys, endorsing LInX. McNulty's staff thought the e-mail was insubordinate and was trying to corner him into endorsing LInX.

McNulty told Department of Justice investigators that he didn't order McKay fired and that his name was apparently put on a list of prosecutors to be fired by Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's chief of staff.

Sampson played a key role in all of the firings, according to the report, and investigators were sharply critical of his "vague and conflicting" versions of events.

"Serious allegation"

The report concludes that the administration's various attempts to justify McKay's dismissal "severely undermined its credibility when it tried to explain its actions."

The report's "most serious allegation" involving McKay's firing — that his removal may have been tied to his refusal to push a criminal investigation into voter fraud after Washington state's 2004 gubernatorial election — could not be dismissed because several officials, particularly Miers, refused to speak to Justice Department investigators.

One of the reasons Sampson offered for McKay's appearance on the removal list was his repeated efforts to ensure the Department of Justice provide enough resources to investigate the still-unsolved killing of Wales, who was shot to death in his Seattle basement in October 2001.

"If Sampson's statement about why he put McKay on the list is accurate, we find it troubling that McKay's aggressive push for resources in the investigation of the murder of an [assistant U.S. attorney] from his office would result in his placement on a removal list," the report said.

3 firings likely political

The 356-page report found that the firings of three other U.S. attorneys raised deep concerns and likely were politically driven. The report was prepared by the Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility.

Iglesias of New Mexico was fired after Republican political figures in New Mexico, including Sen. Pete Domenici and Rep. Heather Wilson, had complained about Iglesias' handling of voter-fraud and public-corruption cases.

Investigators said they do not have the complete story of the firing of Iglesias, blaming it on the refusal of Domenici, Miers, former White House adviser Karl Rove, former Justice Department official Monica Goodling and other key witnesses still to be interviewed.

The report concluded that Bud Cummins, the U.S. Attorney in Arkansas, was forced out to make way for Timothy Griffin, who had previously been a deputy in the White House political office, run by Rove.

It also said the dismissal of Todd Graves, the U.S. Attorney for the Western District of Missouri, probably resulted from pressure from the office of Republican Sen. Christopher "Kit" Bond.

Bond was upset that Graves did not intervene in a dispute between the staffs of Bond and Republican Rep. Sam Graves, the prosecutor's brother, the report said.

Information from The Associated Press and Bloomberg News is included in this report.

Copyright © 2008 The Seattle Times Company

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