McKay Touted for Judgeship Before Firing

The Associated Press
Thursday, March 22, 2007; 3:20 AM

SEATTLE -- A month before putting Washington state's U.S. attorney on a list of prosecutors to be fired, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales' chief deputy tried to help him win a federal judgeship, newly released documents show.

In an e-mail sent Aug. 8 to an associate White House counsel, Gonzales' chief of staff at the time, Kyle Sampson, said prosecutor John McKay had been treated unfairly by Washington's judicial selection commission. He asked if McKay could be considered for the federal bench "along with the recommended candidates."

Sampson also pointed out that McKay had strong support from the state's Democratic senators and two prominent state Republicans. He said he received the information from Debra Yang, then the U.S. attorney in Los Angeles.

A month later, on Sept. 13, McKay's name appeared on Sampson's list of U.S. attorneys "we should consider pushing out." He was among eight U.S. attorneys fired by the end of the year, an action that has raised the ire of Democratic lawmakers suspicious of the motives of the administration and anxious to question top aides to President Bush.

What happened between those dates to reverse McKay's political fortunes is a bit of a mystery.

Yang said Wednesday that she and several other U.S. attorneys believed McKay would be good for the judgeship, and she did not know why McKay fell out of favor.

Documents released to try to answer Democrats' questions about the firings do not include any explanation from the White House about McKay's judicial application. A spokesman for Sampson, who recently resigned over the controversy, did not immediately return a call seeking comment Wednesday.

The e-mails show that the deputy attorney general, Paul McNulty, was upset with McKay over an Aug. 30 letter, signed by McKay and 16 other U.S. attorneys, that urged McNulty to take steps to strengthen a law enforcement information-sharing program called LINX.

Another internal Justice Department document, apparently prepared after the controversy over the firings began, said McKay showed a "pattern of insubordination, poor judgment and demonstration of temperament issues in seeking policy changes."

The document also criticized McKay's office for pursuing sentences below the guideline range. And it cited McKay's "extensive focus and travel outside of district to advocate policy changes, rather than proper focus on running the office."

McKay said Tuesday that he had a conference call with Yang and McNulty before he sent the letter, and McNulty "agreed with everything we were doing with LINX. I thought he wanted the letter."

In April 2005, he said, he was appointed head of the Justice Department's pilot program for information sharing, and that he was fully authorized to take the lead on LINX. "From everything I knew I was in great standing with the Justice Department," McKay said.

At Sampson's request, associate White House counsel Robert Hoyt did inquire about McKay's judicial application. On Aug. 22, McKay was granted an interview with the White House counsel at the time, Harriet Miers.

Hoyt called J. Vander Stoep, the Republican co-chairman of the bipartisan committee that vetted potential replacements for U.S. District Judge John C. Coughenour in Seattle. On Tuesday, Vander Stoep said he told Hoyt that he did not believe McKay was qualified because he had personally handled fewer than 10 trials in his career. He said McKay suggested during his interview that he might not follow legal precedent in cases where fairness called for him to reach a different conclusion.

The committee forwarded the names of three people for consideration, and Bush nominated one of them _ King County Superior Court Judge Richard Jones _ on Monday.

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