U.S. Attorney: 'I Was Ordered to Resign'

The Associated Press
Thursday, February 8, 2007; 12:38 PM

SEATTLE -- Former U.S. Attorney John McKay said his resignation was ordered by the Bush administration without explanation seven months after he received a favorable job evaluation.

"I was ordered to resign as U.S. attorney on Dec. 7 by the Justice Department," McKay said Wednesday in a telephone interview from Washington, D.C. "I was given no explanation. I certainly was told of no performance issues."

McKay, who had led the Justice Department's Western Washington office, previously said only that he was resigning because it was time for him to move on.

His comments came one day after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty acknowledged to the Senate Judiciary Committee that the Justice Department had fired seven U.S. attorneys in the West in the past year, most of them for "performance-related" reasons he would not divulge.

The dismissals have been heavily criticized by Democratic lawmakers and others.

"John McKay has worked diligently for our region and it is deeply disconcerting that he could have been let go for political reasons," said Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash.

Robert Lasnik, the chief federal judge for the Western District of Washington, said he and fellow judges could not understand the firing and were dismayed that the Justice Department implied there was anything wrong with McKay's performance.

"This is unanimous among the judges: John McKay was a superb U.S. attorney," Lasnik said. "For the Justice Department to suggest otherwise is just not fair."

All U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and may be dismissed for any reason, or no reason at all.

A provision in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act that took effect in March allows the attorney general to appoint U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation.

Some Democrats have complained that the White House is using that provision to reward political allies by replacing U.S. attorneys who fall out of favor.

On Thursday, a Senate panel advanced a bill to curb the Justice Department's power to replace federal prosecutors indefinitely. The Judiciary Committee voted 13-6 to send the measure to the Senate floor, where Democratic officials planned to bring it to a vote quickly. Three Republicans also backed the bill. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has promised to submit every replacement for Senate confirmation.

No permanent replacement for McKay has yet been named.

McKay declined to say whether he had made any politically charged comments that might have drawn the ire of Justice Department officials.

The Seattle Times reported Thursday that in his last performance review, McKay received a highly favorable report from a 27-member team from the Justice Department's Evaluation and Review Staff.

"McKay is an effective, well-regarded and capable leader of the (U.S. attorney's office) and the District's law enforcement community," the EARS team wrote in the report, which was obtained by The Times.

The head of the review team, Roger McRoberts, deputy criminal chief of the U.S. attorney's office for the Northern District of Texas, would not comment Wednesday to the newspaper.

© 2007 The Associated Press