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Thursday, May 10, 2007 - Page updated at 12:00 AM

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McKay: White House had us fired

Seattle Times staff reporter

Two former U.S. attorneys said Wednesday they believe the White House had them fired along with six other federal prosecutors, and that ongoing investigations into the dismissals could result in criminal charges against senior Justice Department officials.

John McKay, the former U.S. attorney for Western Washington, and David Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico, also said they believe Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty lied under oath when they testified to Congress about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys. Gonzales is scheduled to testify today before the House Judiciary Committee.

McKay and Iglesias said they still don't know who at the White House ultimately put them on the firing list. But McKay said he believes obstruction-of-justice charges will be filed if investigators conclude any of the dismissals were motivated by an attempt to influence public-corruption or voter-fraud investigations.

"I think there will be a criminal case that will come out of this," McKay said during a meeting Wednesday with Seattle Times editors and reporters. "This is going to get worse, not better."

Additionally, McKay and Iglesias said they believe White House strategist Karl Rove and his aides instigated the dismissals and that someone in the White House ultimately decided who among the nation's 93 U.S. attorneys should be fired.

In response, the White House reissued a statement made by Bush administration counselor Dan Bartlett on March 13 that read: "At no time did the White House bring to or edit or modify or add to or subtract from the list of ... U.S. attorneys. We ultimately approved or signed off on the list when that was completed by the Department of Justice."

McKay and Iglesias made their assertions during Wednesday's meeting with Times journalists. The two later appeared along with Paul Charlton, the former U.S. attorney for Arizona, at a public-policy forum on the dismissals at Seattle University's School of Law.

McKay cited ongoing investigations by the Senate and House Judiciary committees and inquiries now under way by the Justice Department's inspector general and its Office of Professional Responsibility.

Iglesias said he will be interviewed next week by internal Justice Department investigators, as well as by the White House Office of Special Counsel, which is conducting its own investigation of Iglesias' firing.

McKay said he and the other fired prosecutors have been asked to meet with Justice Department investigators within the next 30 days.

Democrats have suggested McKay was fired because Republican activists were upset he did not convene a grand jury and file charges related to the 2004 Washington state governor's election, narrowly won by Democrat Christine Gregoire.

Department of Justice (DOJ) spokesman Brian Roehrkasse issued a statement that said, in part, "After several hours of testimony by the Attorney General, over 6,000 pages of documents released to Congress and hours of interviews with other senior DOJ officials, it is clear that the Attorney General did not ask for the resignation of any individual in order to interfere with or influence a particular prosecution for partisan political gain."

McKay and Iglesias also have both concluded that the White House was behind the firings.

They based their conclusions on thousands of pages released by the Justice Department in recent weeks, as well as hours of public testimony by senior Justice Department officials and news reports of private depositions those officials gave to congressional investigators.

"It seems that given that no one takes credit at the Justice Department, that it can only be coming from one place, and that very strongly means the White House," McKay said.

The White House, so far, has not turned over e-mails related to the firings and has said it may no longer have access to millions of e-mails sent through Republican National Committee (RNC) servers. Consequently, Iglesias said, "it's hard for us to know who in the White House said what, on what date."

"The people that would have a voice in this would be Karl Rove, [Rove aide] Scott Jennings, [former White House counsel] Harriet Miers, probably, yes," he said.

"That would explain why the wagons are so tightly circled," Iglesias added.

In testimony last month before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Gonzales said McKay was fired because there were "serious concerns about his judgment." The chief complaint, he said, was the manner in which McKay pushed an information-sharing project in August 2006.

But last week during a House Judiciary Committee hearing, it was learned that a senior Justice Department official suggested that McKay was fired because he had criticized the way superiors were handling the investigation into the slaying of former Assistant U.S. Attorney Thomas Wales, gunned down in his Seattle home Oct. 11, 2001.

"I think it is very unfair and inappropriate that they would use that now as a reason" for my dismissal, McKay said at the Seattle U forum.

Charlton, the former U.S. attorney from Arizona, told the crowd he did not hear any explanations for his firing until March, when Justice Department officials testified that it was because of a dispute with the FBI over taping confessions and his failure to pursue the death penalty in one murder case.

He is dubious those are the real explanations.

"I couldn't tell you today what the reason was," Charlton said, "but I have faith in the system, and I believe we will know one day."

Charlton expressed dismay that the actions of senior Justice Department officials are causing some to question the integrity and reputations of thousands of assistant U.S. attorneys.

Yet he encouraged law students in the audience not to shy away from becoming prosecutors. "It is a great career, it is a great avocation," Charlton said, "despite what happened to us."

McKay said he first had concerns about politics entering the Justice Department in early 2005, when Gonzales addressed all of the country's U.S. attorneys in Scottsdale, Ariz.

"His first speech to us was a 'you work for the White House' speech," McKay recalled. " 'I work for the White House, you work for the White House.' "

McKay said he thought at the time, "He couldn't have meant that speech," given the traditional independence of U.S. attorneys. "It turns out he did."

Iglesias said the silver lining of the prosecutor firings is that they have triggered a public and congressional recognition of the need to reassert the Justice Department's independence.

"There was an attempt to inject the virus of partisan politics into the prosecutorial process," Iglesias said. "That's been stopped because of congressional oversight and because of media scrutiny."

David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724 or dbowermaster@seattletimes.com

Copyright © 2007 The Seattle Times Company

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