"I can't be directed to do something that is unethical, wrong or illegal."
Seattle's John McKay, the Bush-appointed federal prosecutor dumped by the administration for nobody-knows-what goes before a congressional committee Tuesday to testify about the wholesale firings of federal prosecutors which many believe are political retribution.
McKay isn't talking to reporters, so we went into our files and retrieved a 2005 interview with McKay we did for a Seattle Magazine profile; only a tiny portion of which was ever published.
In light of recent events, his words are fascinating.
Conservative activists are taking credit for Bush's unexplained canning of the moderate Republican. It was hot and Republicans honcho's were mad- many publicly criticized McKay. The Evergreen Freedom Foundationfiled a complaint to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about what it called McKay's lax oversight of the tight election victory of Democratic Christine Gregoire over Republican Dino Rossi.
Designated GOP hitter, Stefan Sharkansky led the pack. In a smug post last month titled "Buh-bye" on his Republo-blog, he says he doesn't know why McKay was fired but wrote that the prosecutor, "did nothing but sit on his thumbs when asked to investigate the allegations of potential election fraud in King County in 2004, (And the allegations have been supported by subsequently discovered evidence, no thanks to McKay)."
But McKay told BlatherWatch, "If there was evidence of criminal fraud in an election, we'd have investigated it. There was zero evidence."
Sharkansky's vituperative readership called McKay a "snibbling (sic) crybaby," and intimated worse: that he took cash from King County Elections, was really a Democrat, or at the very least: "... a crime was committed ...[and] he failed to investigate that crime. Since that is his job- he should lose it!"
McKay says the public may not know exactly what his job is- and bristled at the suggestion that his decisions were based on anything but sound legal and ethical considerations.
"We don't take polls to figure out who's going to be charged with a crime, "he said, "We work on the evidence."
He said people claiming to be Republicans were telling him he was a bad Republican because "... I wasn't going to bring a criminal investigation into a highly political process."
But McKay said his office did more investigating on the case than he could say at the time.
"We closely monitored the civil case in Chelan County. We weren't announcing that publicly at the time and were careful not to imply it. People might have misconstrued that we were 'actively investigating,' which we were not."
If it had been an "active investigation," it would have meant the feds had individuals who were targets because there was evidence that they'd conspired to harm the election.
"There was no evidence like that," he said.
"On the one hand, we didn't want to inhibit somebody from coming forward if they had evidence of criminal fraud. On the other hand, we couldn't just say, 'Ok, this stinks, we're going to convene a grand jury.' That would have been irresponsible."
I relished it because I knew what the right thing to do was- that is- look for evidence, and make decisons based on the law and evidence. Never respond to political pressure. That's what prosecutors do."
Did his ethical and non-partisan handling of the case lose McKay his job with the ultra-partisan, loyalty-demanding, administration known for its payback-is-a-bitch politics?
No one knows that it did, and everyone, including McKay, has so far denied it.
Chris Vance, GOP Chair at the time told the New York Times
Sunday, that conservative activists angry at McKay held no sway with
the White House; and that while consulting with national party leaders
at the time, “They never said to me, ‘Why isn’t John McKay doing
something?’ That never came up.”
(We find it hard to believe that the latter is true, and would be amazed if the Bush Administration, riding its high horse directly after the 2004 victory, could have helped itself, when such a rare governorship was so close to a Republican victory).
He says he was a longtime friend of Gonzales. "I worked with him," McKay says of the Attorney General, who was on the Supreme Court of Texas while McKay was working in civil legal services for poor people. "Judge Gonzales," he says, "was an open supporter of legal aid, as he was later in Washington as White House counsel.
"I've never pursued the party line; I've never taken talking points coming out of DC and regurgitated them."
McKay is a Seattle native— he grew up on Capitol Hill, one of 12 children in a prominent Seattle family—he worked for the late, moderate and princely Republican Congressman and Lt. Governor Joel Pritchard. Brother Mike is a former United States attorney and was state vice chairman of Bush’s 2004 campaign.
McKay spent four years heading the Legal Services Corporation in Washington, D.C., a federally funded nonprofit that gives civil legal representation to the poor and is frequently targeted by Congressional conservatives.
Appointed by Bush in 2001, he led the high-profile prosecution of convicted “millennium bomber” Ahmed Ressam, but even in cases other than the 2004 election, he found himself between the political dog and the fire hydrant.
He faced blistering criticism from Democrats, and some Republicans, for his eloquent defense of the Patriot Act. He held fast when the defiant University of Washington Medical School stonewalled his department’s efforts during the UW School of Medicine billing scandals.
"I will say what I believe. And I think the President wanted me to be here for my leadership."