Gonzales could be prosecuted, McKay says
By Bill Morlin
The U.S. Inspector General may recommend criminal prosecution of departed Attorney General Alberto Gonzales at the conclusion of an investigation, possibly as early as next month, the fired former U.S. attorney for Western Washington told a Spokane audience Friday.
His refusal to open a federal criminal investigation into voter fraud allegations in Gov. Chris Gregoire’s razor-thin victory over Republican challenger Dino Rossi in 2004 may be the reason he was fired, John McKay told the Federal Bar Association.
Appointed by President Bush in October 2001 to the top law enforcement job in western Washington, McKay said he believes he and seven other U.S. attorneys were fired last December by Gonzales for political reasons, perhaps with former White House chief of staff Karl Rove pulling strings.
Career prosecutors in his office and FBI agents agreed there was no reason to go forward with a federal investigation of the Gregoire-Rossi election, and issues associated with it were more properly addressed by state officials, McKay said.
Some also have suggested his dismissal may have been tied to his relentless push to solve the 2001 murder of Tom Wales, an assistant U.S. attorney in Seattle. “I consider that a disgusting (explanation),’’ McKay said, explaining he didn’t need to justify aggressively pursuing the investigation of a prosecutor “killed in the line of duty.”
McKay said he was summoned to Washington, D.C., in June and questioned for eight hours about possible reasons for his firing by investigators with the Office of Inspector General, who will forward their final report to Congress.
“My best guess is it will be released sometime next month,’’ and likely will include recommendations for criminal prosecutions of Gonzales and maybe others, McKay said.
Gonzales “lied about” reasons for the firings when questioned under oath in July by the Senate Judiciary Committee and now has hired a lawyer and is refusing to answer questions from the Inspector General, McKay said.
The White House said McKay was fired for poor performance ratings of his office, but the ex-U.S. attorney said he and his office got exemplary reviews just three months before he was fired.
“The chief law enforcement officer for the United States should not lie under oath,’’ McKay told the bar association.
It was reported last week that Gonzales has now retained a high-profile defense lawyer, and apparently is refusing to answer questions from the Inspector General, which could signify the investigation is nearly complete, McKay said.
“When it lands … it is going to be an extremely negative report on President Bush’s Justice Department,’’ McKay told the packed conference room, which included federal prosecutors and judges.
“There was a conspiracy to politicize the Justice Department,’’ the former U.S. attorney said, “and they did not get away with it.”
Under increasing pressure, Gonzales resigned Aug. 27.
Now a law professor at Seattle University, McKay said he thinks his counterparts, David Iglesias, fired as U.S. attorney for New Mexico, and Carol Lam, forced out as U.S. attorney in San Diego, also were targeted for political reasons.
Iglesias has said he was pressured to bring an indictment against a popular Democratic official before last November’s mid-term election. Iglesias has filed a Hatch Act complaint, alleging Rove and other White House officials may have violated that federal law in his firing.
Lam has said she believes her firing was tied her office’s aggressive investigation of Rep. Randy “Duke” Cunningham, a Republican congressman who later pleaded guilty to conspiracy and tax evasion. It spawned a wider investigation into congressional corruption, and Cunningham is now serving an 8-year prison term.
Immediately after his firing, McKay said he thought about “going quietly,’’ but then he began comparing notes with the seven other U.S. attorneys dumped at the same time in a historically unprecedented move by the White House.
“They led each one of us to believe we were the only one told to resign,’’ he said. “None of us particularly sought the spotlight.’’
McKay said he is now speaking out, giving his “unvarnished thoughts,’’ because he believes the 90 U.S. attorneys – who serve at the pleasure of the president – still should remain independent in choosing criminal cases, while exercising fairness and compassion.
His counterpart, Jim McDevitt, the U.S. attorney for Eastern Washington, was in Washington, D.C., for Justice Department meetings Friday and wasn’t in the large crowd of attorneys and federal judges who heard McKay speak to the Federal Bar Association at the Davenport Hotel.
McKay spoke fondly of his friendship with McDevitt and said the two would have coffee early today at the downtown hotel.
Bill Morlin can be reached at (509) 459-5444 or e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org