John McKay Recounts Crimes Of Bush Administration and Attorney General Alberto Gonzales:
From: The Evolution of John McKay
How a Republican aristocrat and loyal Bush soldier turned into a marijuana activist and public pot-stirrer.
By Nina Shapiro Wednesday, Sep 28 2011
He says he began researching the relevant law. "I learned that we were wrong, we were terribly wrong."
Eventually, Padilla would get a trial, and be found guilty of conspiring with terrorists. But McKay was grappling with other warning signs by then. Shortly after Alberto Gonzales succeeded Ashcroft in 2005, the new Attorney General held a meeting in Scottsdale, Ariz., with all the U.S. attorneys.
McKay was excited about Gonzales' appointment. He called a number of his colleagues to tell them how much they were going to like the former Texas Supreme Court justice, whom he had met when he was head of Legal Aid. "I thought he was humble and intelligent, and really a good guy," McKay says.
Then Gonzales stepped off the plane in Scottsdale, walked into a conference room, and issued a directive: "All staff leave the room," McKay remembers the Attorney General saying, indicating that he wanted to talk only to the presidential appointees.
"He walked back and forth in front of us with his head down, pacing like this." says McKay, drooping his head to demonstrate. "He said in this really threatening voice: 'I work for the president of the United States. You work for the president of the United States.' "
McKay remembers thinking: "Oh my God, what did he just say?" There were furtive glances around the room, and in subsequent days, calls among the U.S. attorneys to discuss the implications.
"I think it was pretty clear what he was talking about," McKay says. "If the president called me and said, 'I want you to indict so and so,' " he would have been expected to follow orders—never mind the evidence that might be at hand and the impartial judgment that U.S. attorneys are supposed to make.
For all his public loyalty to the administration, McKay insists that privately he let it be known that he would not simply do as he was told. He cites, as an example, an order that went out as the Patriot Act came up for reauthorization. The U.S. attorneys were told to contact the congressional delegation in their area and lobby for the act.
McKay's problem with that order: "It's a crime." A federal statute prohibits federal employees from lobbying. (Justice Department spokespeople later argued that the U.S. attorneys were exempt because they were presidential appointees.) McKay says he began calling his colleagues, sharing his concerns, and passing along a message for his bosses at the Justice Department: "I'm not doing it."
Paul Charlton, the U.S. attorney in Phoenix at the time, doesn't remember McKay pushing back on Patriot Act lobbying. But he does recall McKay "going his own way" on other matters, most notably a new information-sharing system called LInX (the Law Enforcement Information Exchange) that McKay was trying to develop. The idea was to allow federal and local authorities to move beyond their silos. But, as Charlton recalls, "the FBI didn't want to share information. It got very heated. John held his ground."
By his own account, McKay also irritated his bosses by insisting that they weren't pushing hard enough on the investigation of the murder of Tom Wales, the assistant U.S. Attorney assassinated right before McKay took office, and by balking when Justice officials told federal agencies one year to knock on doors and "rattle cages" in the Muslim community right before Ramadan.
"I joke now that I can't believe I wasn't fired sooner," he says.
Yet the catalyst for McKay's dismissal, by most people's reckoning, wasn't a power battle with the president's men; it was a frenzied fight happening right here in Washington state. In November 2004, Chris Gregoire won her first gubernatorial election by 133 votes. Republican activists went wild, insisting there had been fraud. Calls for an investigation came to McKay's office—in droves, especially after right-wing radio host Mike Siegel urged listeners to turn the screws on the U.S. attorney.
"I think it was the most phone calls ever received at the U.S. attorney's office," says McKay, whose assistants set up a separate line to handle them.
Nevertheless, he says he never seriously considered bringing charges against anyone because the evidence wasn't there. He recalls an envelope of supposed "proof" sent to the FBI by Tom McCabe, then head of the Building Industry Association of Washington. FBI agents, McKay says, "literally laughed" when they opened it. According to McKay, it contained handwriting analyses of absentee ballots, but not anything linking Democratic operatives to fraud.
McKay's pass on the affair, along with that of other law-enforcement and election officials, infuriated party faithful. Says Vance, "The activists believed we were being sold out by three moderate Republicans: [late King County Prosecutor Norm] Maleng, [Secretary of State Sam] Reed, and McKay." Vance, however, says he "can't fault" the former U.S. attorney, because he believes McKay made a fair assessment of the evidence.
Siegel, on the other hand, still fumes. Other U.S. attorneys didn't sit back and wait for evidence of voter fraud to be spoon-fed them, says the nationally syndicated radio host who broadcasts from his Seattle home studio; they launched their own investigations.
To him, McKay's inaction is symptomatic of a larger character flaw. While others laud McKay for what they consider his courage in standing up to Republican leaders in D.C. and at home, Siegel argues that the congenial attorney has always wanted to "placate people rather than take strong positions." McKay's bosses may have been conservative Republicans, but the reigning political culture in this state—and certainly in Seattle—is liberal. The calculus of a moderate Republican like McKay, Siegel says, is that "it's OK to be slightly off the reservation—but not too far. I don't believe he really stood up for Republican values at expense of being accepted by the political elite." As Siegel sees it, McKay kowtowed to that elite by not challenging Gregoire's election results.
Yet the cost of not placating the Republican lions was high. In later congressional testimony, Alberto Gonzales conceded that he had "received letters from groups and outside parties" of those angry at McKay, which generated "a great deal of concern."
On a "dark and rainy" December day in 2006, McKay says, he received a call from a higher-up in the Justice Department. "The administration wanted a change," McKay says he was told. It was time to "move on."