By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Monday, March 26, 2007
One of the eight former U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration said yesterday that White House officials questioned his performance in highly partisan political terms at a meeting in Washington in September, three months before his dismissal.
John McKay of Washington state, who had decided two years earlier not to bring voter fraud charges that could have undermined a Democratic victory in a closely fought gubernatorial race, said White House counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy, William Kelley, "asked me why Republicans in the state of Washington would be angry with me."
McKay said on NBC's "Meet the Press" that the question -- which he took as a challenge to his 2004 decision -- surprised him because the issue had been carefully reviewed by his office and the decision was supported by the FBI's office in Seattle. "We expected to be supported by people in Washington, D.C., when we make tough decisions like that," McKay said.
He added that he took umbrage at the idea that he had other responsibilities beyond focusing "on the evidence and not allow[ing] politics into the work that we do in criminal prosecutions." Those involved in the scandal over the firings who acted unprofessionally "or even illegally" must be held accountable for what they did, he said.
McKay's disclosure of an explicit White House question about the damage his decision caused to his standing among party loyalists added new detail to his previous statement that Miers accused him of having "mishandled" the voter fraud inquiry.
The use of the word "mishandled" left open the possibility that White House officials -- who in September were weighing whether to recommend McKay for a federal judgeship -- merely disputed McKay's professional judgment. But his statement yesterday lent new credence to suspicions that partisan political concerns weighed heavily in his firing.
His remarks came amid increasing criticism of the administration by other fired prosecutors. Bud Cummins, who was dismissed last year to make way for a protege of Karl Rove, noted on CBS's "Face the Nation" that among the documents released by the administration, "there is no evidence of a credible performance-review process as the attorney general has described."
Former prosecutor David C. Iglesias of New Mexico, asked on "Meet the Press" if he believes he was removed for political reasons, said, "Absolutely, yes." Iglesias, a Republican, also said that "right now, I've got serious doubts" about the integrity and leadership of Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales.
Iglesias also challenged a recent statement by White House counselor Dan Bartlett that Iglesias was fired in part because of frustration that his prosecution of a former New Mexico state treasurer had produced a conviction on only one of 23 counts.
Iglesias said Bartlett is "out of touch" and "looking at talking points" because "he doesn't know the facts underlying what we do as U.S. attorneys." He said that the former state treasurer was sentenced to three years in prison and that "had he been convicted of 10 out of 23 counts, I doubt he would have done a lot more time."
Although President Bush said Saturday that he wants Gonzales to remain in his post, political support for that position continued to erode yesterday because of the disclosure Friday that Gonzales had chaired a November meeting where the firings were discussed -- contrary to Gonzales's past assertion that he was "not involved in any discussions about what was going on."
Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the Judiciary Committee's senior Republican, said on "Meet the Press" that "we have to have an attorney general who is candid, truthful, and if we find he has not been candid and truthful, that's a very compelling reason for him not to stay on."
The Justice Department's effort to portray the new disclosure as consistent with Gonzales's depiction of his role did not appear to be getting much traction on Capitol Hill. Sen. Chuck Hagel (R-Neb.) said on ABC's "This Week" that Gonzales has "a problem. You cannot have the nation's chief law enforcement officer with a cloud hanging over his credibility."
Sen. Trent Lott (R-Miss.), the minority whip, said on "Fox News Sunday:" "I think it is a fact that it hasn't been handled well. . . . There needs to be a way to find out exactly what went on and why this was done."
Democratic lawmakers were more scathing. Sen. Dianne Feinstein (Calif.), on the Fox program, accused Gonzales of lying to her about his role at the outset of the scandal. "I think he's been damaged very badly," she said, and called for Gonzales to resign.