View Full Version : Former U.S. Attorney Says He Was Ordered To Resign By The Bush Administration

02-09-2007, 08:16 AM
Former U.S. attorney says he was ordered to resign



SEATTLE -- Former U.S. Attorney John McKay told The Associated Press on Wednesday that his resignation last month was ordered by the Bush administration, which gave him no explanation for the firing.

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

McKay previously had 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 has 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.

"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. "Congress and the American people have no tolerance for the politicization of the U.S. attorney's office."

Robert Lasnik, the chief U.S. District Court judge for the Western District of Washington, said he and his 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."

"By every measure, the performance of his office improved during his tenure," Lasnik added. "If you talk to local prosecutors, or local sheriffs, or the FBI or the ATF, they never had the kind of service from the U.S. attorney's office in terms of service, cooperation and aggressive handling of cases that they had under John McKay's leadership. We're busier than ever before because they're bringing more cases."

McKay's office filed charges against twice as many defendants last year as it did in 2001, the year he was nominated by President Bush and confirmed by the Senate.

McKay announced his resignation in mid-December, about the same time he received word that he would not be nominated to the federal bench in Seattle. His last day on the job was Jan. 26, and he took a job teaching a course on constitutional law and terrorism at Seattle University Law School.

The U.S. attorney is the top federal law enforcement officer in Seattle and makes decisions on which cases to prosecute in the Western District of Washington. McKay had personally argued on the government's behalf in the sentencing and appeal of Ahmed Ressam, who was convicted of plotting to blow up Los Angeles International Airport on the eve of the millennium.

The 22-year sentence Ressam received was less than McKay sought. On appeal, a three-judge panel of the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals threw out both the sentence and one of the charges Ressam was convicted of. Federal prosecutors are expected to ask a full 15-judge 9th Circuit Court panel to rehear the appeal.

King County Prosecutor Norm Maleng, who is heading a committee to help select McKay's permanent replacement, said McKay's pursuit of terror suspects, from Ressam to a local group that sought to establish a terrorist training camp in Bly, Ore., was a hallmark of his tenure, as was improving communication between state and federal law enforcement.

"That statement that it was 'performance-related,' no one can understand what was meant by that," Maleng said. "It isn't just that he did a good job. He did an outstanding job."

Tom Hillier, the federal public defender in Seattle who represented Ressam, said he was surprised, too.

"If this was done for political reasons, it shows a fundamental disrespect for the independence of the U.S. attorneys," Hillier said. "It's definitely bad policy for an administration to be accepting resignations for what it sees as performance issues, particularly if they're not giving any information about what those issues are. John McKay vigorously enforced the laws in this district."

McKay declined to say whether he had made any politically charged comments that might have drawn the ire of Justice Department officials. All U.S. attorneys serve at the pleasure of the president and may be dismissed for any reason, or no reason at all.

Jeffrey C. Sullivan, chief of the criminal division in the U.S. attorney's office for Western Washington, was named to be interim U.S. attorney for the district.

A provision in the reauthorization of the Patriot Act allows the attorney general to appoint U.S. attorneys indefinitely without Senate confirmation, but Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has promised to submit all of his choices for confirmation.

Last year, the U.S. attorney in Arkansas, H.E. Bud Cummins, was ordered to resign without cause, McNulty acknowledged Tuesday. Cummins was replaced by J. Timothy Griffin, a former aide to presidential counselor Karl Rove and a former military prosecutor.