By R. Jeffrey Smith
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 25, 2007 7:50 PM
One of the eight former U.S. attorneys fired by the Bush administration said today that White House officials had questioned his performance in highly partisan political terms at a key meeting in Washington last 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 undermine a Democratic victory in a closely fought gubernatorial race, said that White House counsel Harriet Miers and her deputy William Kelley "actually 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 was reviewed by his office and supported by the FBI's office in Seattle. "We expected to be supported by people in Washington, D.C.,when me 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" have to 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 phrase "mishandled" left open the possibility that White House officials -- who last September were weighing whether to recommend McKay for a federal judgeship -- merely disputed McKay's professional judgment. McKay's statement yesterday instead lent new credence to suspicions that partisan political concerns weighed heavily in his subsequent firing.
His remarks came amid increasing criticisms of the administration by other fired prosecutors. Bud Cummins, who was fired 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 Iglesias of New Mexico, when asked on "Meet the Press" if he believes he was removed for political reasons, said, "Absolutely, yes." Iglesias, who is a Republican, went on to say 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 had been fired in part due to frustration that his prosecution of a former New Mexico state treasurer had produced a conviction on only one of 23 counts in an indictment.
Iglesias said Bartlett was "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 the former state treasurer was sentenced to three years in prison, and "had he been convicted of 10 out of 23 counts, I doubt he would have done a lot more time."
Although President Bush said on Saturday that he wants Gonzales to remain in his post, political support for that position continued to erode today due to the disclosure Friday that Gonzales had chaired a November meeting where the firings were discussed -- contrary to Gonzales's past claim that he was "not involved in any discussions about what was going on."
Sen. Arlen Specter (Pa.), the Senate Judiciary Committee's senior Republican, said on the program 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 Gonzales's past depiction of his role as consistent with the new disclosure 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 "got 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" that "I think it is a fact that it hasn't been handled very 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. Diane Feinstein (Cal.), appearing on the Fox program, accused Gonzales of personally lying to her about his role in a telephone call at the outset of the scandal. "I think he's been damaged very badly," she said, and called for Gonzales to resign.