!! History Commons Alert, Exciting News
Profile: John L. McKay
a.k.a. John Larkin McKay
John L. McKay was a participant or observer in the following events:
A scene from the UW Horticulture Center fire. [Source: Associated Press]Two college students set off a firebomb at the University of Washington’s Center for Urban Horticulture that causes $7 million in damages. No one is injured in the blast, caused by several time-delayed fire bombs. Lacey Phillabaum and Jennifer Kolar are affiliated with the Earth Liberation Front (ELF—see 1997), which will take credit for the bombing. ELF’s plan was to target genetically-engineered poplar trees at the center, but the bomb also destroys other research projects, including wetlands restoration and endangered stickweed plants. Since 2000, ELF has targeted companies and government facilities involved in genetic engineering; a professor involved in the poplar project, Toby Bradshaw, received timber-industry funding for the research. ELF’s statement after the bombing calls the genetically engineered poplars “an ecological nightmare” for the diversity of native forests. Bradshaw will say that most of the damage he suffered was to his office; a greenhouse containing some 80 genetically-engineered poplars survives unscathed. “The truth is that we’re dealing with a bunch of misinformed… folks who don’t understand the research that was being carried out,” Bradshaw will say. “Even though I was the target, I am the one who was least affected.” Of charges that his “mutant” trees would damage the environment, Bradshaw says his work will almost certainly never “see the outside of a greenhouse.” The UW bombing is one of two planned for the day of May 21; a second bombing also occurs at a Clatskanie, Oregon, poplar farm owned by a timber firm, claiming two buildings and a dozen vehicles. Five years later, Phillabaum and Kolar will plead guilty to participating in the firebombing and other, lesser charges in return for their cooperation in a federal investigation into attacks mounted by ELF and its sister organization, the Animal Liberation Front (ALF—see 1976). US Attorney John McKay will say, “These violent acts of destruction are not a valid form of political speech.” Both will receive significantly smaller prison terms than they may have received had they gone to trial and been convicted of all counts. Three other ELF members were at the scene: William C. Rodgers, a longtime ELF activist who will commit suicide in an Arizona jail in 2005 (see October 19, 1998); Justin Solondz, who helped assemble the bombs and is now a fugitive; and Briana Waters, who has been indicted for serving as a lookout for the UW bombing. [Los Angeles Times, 6/9/2001; Seattle Times, 10/5/2006]
John McKay. [Source: Seattle Times]John McKay is sworn in as the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington State. McKay has little or no experience as a prosecutor; most of his legal career has been spent in private practice, except for a brief stint as a special assistant to then-FBI Director William Sessions. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] McKay was president of the Congressionally established Legal Services Corporation in Washington, DC, a private non-profit corporation designed to ensure low-income citizens receive adequate legal representation. He was a White House Fellow in 1989-1990, where he worked with Sessions. [US Department of Justice, 12/14/2006] There are 93 US Attorneys serving in the 50 states as well as in Puerto Rico, Guam, the Virgin Islands, and the Northern Marianas. All US Attorneys are appointed by the president with the advice and consent of the Senate, and serve under the supervision of the Office of the Attorney General in the Justice Department. They are the chief law enforcement officers for their districts. They serve at the pleasure of the president and can be terminated for any reason at any time. Typically, US Attorneys serve a four-year term, though they often serve for longer unless they leave or there is a change in presidential administrations. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Thomas Wales. [Source: FBI]Newly appointed US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) begins investigating the murder of Thomas C. Wales, an Assistant US Attorney (AUSA) in the office. Wales, a popular AUSA and a strong advocate of gun control, was murdered three weeks before McKay took office, when someone shot and killed him through his basement window. Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis had recused the office from investigating the crime, because, McKay will later state, the Justice Department (DOJ) had no confidence in the prosecutor initially assigned to the case. Moreover, as the case was a likely candidate for a death penalty prosecution, he will tell a reporter that the office is recused because “[y]ou couldn’t have Tom’s friends in the office making those kinds of decisions.”
Begins Pressuring Justice Department - Shortly after taking office, McKay begins pressuring Deputy Attorney General (DAG) Larry Thompson to replace the prosecutor on the Wales case. McKay will recall having several “tense conversations” with Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General Christopher Wray concerning this issue. In March 2002, the DOJ assigns a more experienced prosecutor to the case. The DOJ sends no additional manpower to Seattle to help with the case, and initially offers a $25,000 reward for information leading to the conviction of the killer, an amount FBI Special Agent Charles Mandigo will later call “insultingly small.” (After McKay’s intervention, the DOJ later raises the reward to $1 million.) McKay later says that while he is not directly involved in the investigation, he pushed hard for the DOJ to commit more resources to the investigation, and felt it was his responsibility to act as a conduit between the Seattle FBI office and the DOJ regarding resources for the case. He will say that while he was assertive, he remained professional and appropriate in his conduct; no one in the DOJ ever complained to him about his actions, he will say. “My mistake was that I assumed ‘recusal’ was ‘recusal’,” he will say. “I had erred in assuming that I was completely recused from even asking questions about the allocation of resources. I assumed it would have the highest priority within the Department of Justice. I once worked at the FBI for a year, and during that time an agent was killed in Las Vegas. They deploy like crazy when an agent is killed. Agents got off the airplane that night from DC to investigate. The director of the FBI flew out. That was not the reaction we were getting from the Department of Justice after Tom Wales was killed. Over 2002, I decided that really it should be my job to advocate for appropriate resources to be devoted to the Wales case.”
Speculation as to Politicization of Investigation - Many involved in the investigation believe that the Wales murder is a low priority for the DOJ because his liberal politics clash with the rightward tilt of the senior officials appointed by the Bush administration.
Aggressive but Appropriate - A 2008 Justice Department investigation of the 2006 US Attorney firings (see September 29, 2008) will find no reason to dispute McKay’s recollection of events. Both Thompson and Wray will describe McKay as being aggressive about making sure the investigation has adequate resources. Thompson will recall no tension between himself and McKay, though he will recall some of his then-staff members complaining about McKay’s pressure and demands for resources. Thompson will admit to becoming irritated with McKay on occasion, but will emphasize that McKay conducted himself in an appropriate manner at all times. It was “not new in the annals of the Department of Justice [that] a DAG got aggravated with a US Attorney,” he will say. He will not recall discussing the matter with Kyle Sampson, the chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the architect of the plan to fire the US Attorneys (see November 15, 2006). Wray will recall that some in the DOJ considered McKay to be “high maintenance,” in regard to the Wales investigation and with other issues. While some in the DAG’s office informally discussed McKay’s behavior among themselves, Wray will recall, no formal review of his conduct was ever undertaken. Wray will also not recall any discussions with Sampson, though he will say he kept Gonzales’s office apprised of the events surrounding the Wales investigation. Margolis will recall McKay being somewhat emotional about the Wales case and extremely pushy, he found his conduct entirely justifiable considering the situation. Margolis will say that he doubts Sampson would have listed McKay for removal because of his interactions with Thompson. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Remains Unsolved - The Wales murder will remain unsolved. [New Yorker, 8/6/2007]
Entity Tags: D. Kyle Sampson, Bush administration (43), Alberto R. Gonzales, Christopher Wray, Charles Mandigo, US Department of Justice, Federal Bureau of Investigation, John L. McKay, Thomas C. Wales, David Margolis, Larry D. Thompson
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
John McKay, the US Attorney for the Western District of Washington (see October 24, 2001), undergoes his first Evaluation and Review Staff (EARS) performance evaluation, as mandated by the Justice Department. The evaluation is positive, stating that “McKay was setting appropriate goals and priorities and was doing an outstanding job furthering interagency cooperation.… McKay was well respected by his staff, the judiciary, and all the law enforcement and civil agencies.” [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] A follow-up letter from the Executive Office for US Attorneys shows that McKay’s office garnered one of the highest cumulative scores (4.71 out of a possible 5) of all 93 US Attorneys’ offices. The letter singles out McKay’s work on border enforcement strategies and notes several areas in which McKay’s office displayed “best practices” in individual areas. McKay himself receives particular praise for his management of his office. Another follow-up letter effusively praises McKay’s work with anti-terrorism concerns, particularly his prosecution of several high-profile terrorism cases. McKay also receives recognition for outstanding work with white collar crime, firearms, child exploitation, environmental, and drug cases, and in implementing a new program to assist victims of fraud in receiving restitution. [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 5/21/2007]
At the urging of US Attorney John McKay (see October 24, 2001), the Naval Criminal Investigative Service (NCIS) agrees to fund an information database system that will become known as the Northwest Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX). The database is intended to let local, state, and federal law enforcement agencies share information. McKay has the support of Deputy Attorney General James Comey, who has the power to direct Justice Department agencies to share their records with the project. When McKay explains the project to Comey, Comey envisions the project being used as part of the “OneDOJ” initiative to persuade Justice Department law enforcement agencies to share information with one another and with state and local law enforcement. Comey will call McKay a “visionary” concerning information sharing, and supports McKay’s efforts wholeheartedly. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) is told by Tom McCabe of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) that the recounts in the disputed gubernatorial race for Washington State between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see November 2-30, 2004) revealed forged signatures on provisional ballots. McKay informs Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch of the criminal division’s public integrity section in the Justice Department, and asks Donsanto if his office can open a federal investigation if the allegations only involve a state election. Donsanto advises McKay to take no action until election authorities certify the winner and any court cases stemming from the election have run their course. McKay disagrees with Donsanto’s advice, and directs the FBI to open a preliminary inquiry into the allegations. FBI agents interview McCabe, but neither McKay nor the FBI take further action because the election is not yet certified. McKay advises McCabe to provide any evidence he might have of voter fraud to the local prosecutor, because the complaint involves a state race. When the race is certified in Gregoire’s favor on December 30, cases are immediately filed in state court challenging the results. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008] Around this same time, McKay receives a telephone call from Chris Vance, the chair of the Washington Republican Party, asking about the investigation. McKay cites the prohibition against revealing information concerning an ongoing investigation and refuses to answer Vance’s questions (see Late 2004 or Early 2005). McCabe soon decides that McKay is not pursuing the fraud allegations quickly enough and begins pressuring the White House to fire him (see Late 2004 and July 5, 2005). McKay allows Justice Department agents to examine what he will call the “so-called evidence,” and will recall one agent “laugh[ing] out loud” because the evidence was “that flimsy.” He will recall that he could find no framework to follow in pursuing voter fraud cases. “I was looking for a benchmark,” he will say. “The impression I got [from the Justice Department] was that I should make it up as I went along. The preference, at least as it was expressed from the attorney general’s office, was simply to file as many such cases as possible. I wasn’t willing to do that, certainly not in the gubernatorial race.… [W]as there a conspiracy to steal the election? Absolutely not.” [Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 134-135]
Washington State businessman Tom McCabe, the executive vice president of the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW) and a prominent Republican activist, is angered by what he considers “voter fraud” in the disputed gubernatorial election between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). He is further frustrated by what he considers the reluctance by Republican John McKay (see October 24, 2001 and Late 2004 or Early 2005), the US Attorney for Western Washington, to pursue the allegations. McCabe repeatedly contacts the White House to demand McKay’s firing. McKay will later say, “There was no evidence, and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury.” McCabe told McKay he had evidence of forged signatures on absentee ballots cast for Gregoire (see December 2004), and attempted to persuade the FBI to launch an investigation. Neither McKay nor the FBI will be convinced by McCabe’s evidence (see January 4, 2005). Of McKay’s refusal to pursue the allegations, McCabe later recalls, “It started me wondering whether the US Attorney was doing his job.” McKay later says that the FBI concluded that the ballots cited by McCabe were not forgeries. [Seattle Times, 3/13/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011]
John McKay, the US Attorney for Western Washington State (see October 24, 2001), receives a telephone call from Chris Vance, the state’s Republican Party chair. Vance is unhappy with the results of the Washington gubernatorial election between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA); Rossi was initially declared the winner, but Gregoire forced a recount and was declared the winner, a declaration Vance and state Republicans are disputing (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Vance will later say he feels it necessary to call McKay as a fellow Republican. He will later recall the gist of his discussion with McKay, saying, “Republican activists were furious because they felt that you had a Republican secretary of state, a Republican county prosecutor… and a Republican US Attorney, but still they saw the governorship slipping away, and they were just angry.” He will recall McKay saying something like: “Stop right there, I can’t talk about this. If we are doing any kind of investigation or not, I can’t comment.” Vance will recall, “I dropped it.” Vance is in regular contact with White House political chief Karl Rove, and it is likely that the two discuss the gubernatorial election, though Vance will deny any memory of speaking with Rove about McKay or any desire for a federal investigation of the election. At the same time, prominent businessman and Republican activist Tom McCabe, angry that McKay is not pursuing allegations of voter fraud against Gregoire, begins contacting the White House to demand McKay’s firing (see Late 2004). McKay will later testify that he “vaguely remembered” receiving the call from Vance, but remembers nothing “significant” from the conversation. McKay will later be placed on a list of US Attorneys to be fired, most likely for political reasons (see December 7, 2006 and December 20, 2006). White House emails will not clarify why McKay is targeted for firing, though McKay will recall that White House counsels Harriet Miers and William Kelley cite the anger among Washington State Republicans over the 2004 elections and his refusal to pursue allegations of voter fraud as one reason behind his firing. [Seattle Times, 3/14/2007; Talking Points Memo, 2011] In January 2005, McKay is contacted by the chief of staff of US Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) about the possibility of voter fraud in the election (see January 4, 2005). In early 2005, Vance and prominent state Republicans will call on McKay and the Justice Department to launch probes into voter fraud allegations that they say benefited Gregoire. [Seattle Times, 3/13/2007] Gregoire will win the election by 133 votes after a lengthy judicial review. Allegations from state Republicans of voter fraud that supposedly benefited Gregoire will be dismissed as baseless. Both sides will allege that mistakes in vote counting and voting reports led to erroneous vote tallies, and both will allege that hundreds of disenfranchised felons cast ballots in the election. The court will find that 1,678 illegal votes were cast in the elections, though it will remain unclear who received the most benefit from those votes. [Seattle Post-Intelligencer, 6/5/2005]
One of several official logos for the LInX program. [Source: NCIS]Deputy Attorney General James Comey asks US Attorney John McKay (see October 24, 2001) to lead a pilot program in Seattle for entering Justice Department (DOJ) law enforcement information into a new information-sharing system called the Northwest Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX—see Early 2004). McKay has been a vocal proponent of the new program and has enjoyed Comey’s support for the program. Comey knows that he and McKay will encounter resistance from some DOJ agencies who jealously guard their information. Comey’s memo directs DOJ agency heads to participate in the program and gives deadlines for uploading information into the new system. McKay will later say the DOJ’s law enforcement agencies do not fully comply with Comey’s directive. Moreover, when Comey resigns in the spring of 2005, no one in the DOJ pressures agency heads to comply with the program directives. Enthusiasm for the project will wane further when Comey’s successor, Paul McNulty, takes the position. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) has been pursuing allegations of voter fraud in the highly disputed governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 2004 and December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay has worked with the FBI on the investigation. He has met with FBI and Justice Department officials, who together have reviewed the evidence and concluded that there are no grounds to open a federal grand jury investigation. Craig Donsanto, the head of the election crimes branch of the criminal division’s public integrity section in the Justice Department, has also advised McKay to refrain from any proactive investigation, but merely to collect facts and information, and monitor the state court litigation surrounding the election, because the department wants to make sure not to give the impression that it is trying to influence the litigation. McKay drafts a public statement for use by the FBI and his office to respond to questions surrounding the controversy. The statement says that while the FBI would receive and evaluate all complaints of voter fraud, because the race is a state election matter, citizens should also provide that information to state officials. McKay and the FBI will continue to examine evidence presented to them as “voter fraud,” and will determine that none of it proves any criminality whatsoever. Moreover, the Justice Department will confirm that in as the governor’s race is a state matter, the US Attorney, a federal law enforcement office, has no jurisdiction over allegations about the race. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington State (see October 24, 2001) issues a noncommital statement on allegations of voter fraud in the highly disputed governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay, along with the FBI and the Justice Department, have examined the evidence presented in the allegations (see December 2004), and found no reason to bring any indictments (see January 4, 2005). Shortly after McKay issues the statement, Ed Cassidy, the chief of staff for US Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA), telephones McKay to discuss the race. According to McKay’s recollection, Cassidy begins asking him about the election and the potential investigation, and McKay responds with what he will call information consistent with his public statement. When Cassidy says, “You know, John, it’s really important—” McKay interrupts him and says, “Ed, I’m sure you’re not about to start talking to me about the future direction of this case.” McKay will recall taking a very stern tone with Cassidy. Cassidy terminates the call. (Cassidy will recall McKay saying, “I hope you’re not asking me to tell you something that I can’t tell you.”) McKay informs his First Assistant US Attorney and the criminal chief, Assistant Attorney General Alice Fisher, about the call. Both say he conducted himself appropriately. All of them decide there is no need to report the call to the Justice Department, because Cassidy did not cross the line and demand that McKay open an investigation. McKay will later say he is “concerned and dismayed by the call” from Cassidy. Cassidy will say he did not place the call at the behest of Hastings, but because of the outrage among state Republicans at Gregoire’s victory. Cassidy will say that he wanted to make sure Hastings did not make any inappropriate public statements if there was indeed a federal investigation opening. He will say that his telephone call to McKay is merely to head off the possibility of Hastings making what he calls “intemperate remarks” about the election. He will also say that his call to McKay “was a routine effort to determine whether allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election were, or were not, being investigated by federal authorities,” and will say that he did not violate ethical boundaries in the conversation. Hastings will call Cassidy’s discussion with McKay “entirely appropriate,” and will add, “It was a simple inquiry and nothing more—and it was the only call to any federal official from my office on this subject either during or after the recount ordeal.” Hastings will say that he did not ask Cassidy to place the call, but will recall probably receiving some constituent complaints about the election and the alleged voter fraud that some callers said “gave” the election to Gregoire. He will say that he never had any misgivings about McKay. [TPM Muckraker, 3/6/2007; Seattle Times, 3/7/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] (A later Talking Points Memo report on the Cassidy-McKay discussion will inaccurately place it as taking place in November, before the recounts are completed.) [Talking Points Memo, 2011]
Kyle Sampson, the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005), sends a list of the 93 current US Attorneys to White House counsel Harriet Miers. Each US Attorney is listed in either plain type, boldface, or “strikeout,” meaning a line is drawn through their name. In a follow-up email on March 2, Sampson explains that, “putting aside expiring terms, the analysis on the chart I gave you is as follows:
Bold - “Recommend retaining; strong US Attorneys who have produced, managed well, and exhibited loyalty to the president and attorney general.
Strikeout - “Recommend removing; weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors; chafed against administration initiatives, etc.
Nothing - “No recommendation; not distinguished themselves either positively or negatively.”
On the copy of the chart released to the House Judiciary Committee in 2009, most of the US Attorneys’ names are redacted. The ones who are not redacted are listed as follows:
Paul K. Charlton, Arizona (see November 14, 2001 and December 2003): nothing;
Bud Cummins, Eastern Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002): strikeout.
Debra W. Yang, Central California: boldface.
Kevin Ryan, Northern California (see August 2, 2002 and February 2003): nothing. (Ryan’s name is in a different font than the others, suggesting that it has been re-entered; it is difficult to tell from the copy of Sampson’s chart if his name is in boldface or not.)
Carol C. Lam, Southern California (see November 8, 2002 and February 7-11, 2005): strikeout.
Patrick Fitzgerald, Northern Illinois (see October 24, 2001): nothing.
Margaret M. Chiara, Western Michigan (see November 2, 2001 and July 12-16, 2004): strikeout.
Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Minnesota: strikeout.
Dunn O. Lampton, Southern Mississippi: strikeout.
Todd P. Graves, Missouri (see October 11, 2001 and March 2002): nothing.
Daniel G. Bogden, Nevada (see November 2, 2001 and February 2003): nothing.
Christopher J. Christie, New Jersey (see December 20, 2001): boldface.
David C. Iglesias, New Mexico (see October 18, 2001 and 2002): boldface.
Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Central North Carolina: strikeout.
Mary Beth Buchanan, Western Pennsylvania: boldface.
John McKay Jr., Western Washington (see October 24, 2001 and May 2002): strikeout.
Steven M. Biskupic, Wisconsin: strikeout.
Thomas A. Zonay, Vermont: boldface.
On March 2, Sampson sends an email to Miers indicating some revisions to the chart. Heffelfinger and Biskupic have their statuses changed to “strikeout” (referenced above), and Matt Orwig, the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Texas, is listed in boldface. Miers, a Texas native, responds, “Good to hear about Matt actually.” Sampson replies, somewhat cryptically and with careless punctuation and capitalization: “yes he’s good. oversight by me.” [US House of Representatives, Committee on the Judiciary, 6/15/2009 ]
Entity Tags: Patrick J. Fitzgerald, Carol C. Lam, Matt Orwig, Steven M. Biskupic, Thomas A. Zonay, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, Todd P. Graves, Mary Beth Buchanan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Alberto R. Gonzales, Margaret M. Chiara, Paul K. Charlton, John L. McKay, D. Kyle Sampson, Kevin J. Ryan, Christopher J. (“Chris”) Christie, Daniel G. Bogden, Debra Wong Yang, David C. Iglesias, Harriet E. Miers, Dunn O. Lampton, House Judiciary Committee, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
Justice Department official Kyle Sampson (see 2001-2003), now the deputy chief of staff for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales (see February 15, 2005) as well as the Special Assistant US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, sends an email to Gonzales’s successor, senior White House counsel Harriet Miers. Sampson is responding to a late February request for recommendations for firing US Attorneys in case the White House decides to ask for resignations from a “subset” of those officials (see February 24, 2005 and After). In the email, Sampson ranks all 93 US Attorneys, using a set of three broad criteria. Strong performers exhibit “loyalty to the president and attorney general” (see January 9, 2005). Poor performers are, he writes, “weak US Attorneys who have been ineffectual managers and prosecutors, chafed against administration initiatives, etc.” A third group is not rated at all. US Attorney David Iglesias of New Mexico (see October 18, 2001, 2002 and November 14-18, 2005 ) and Kevin Ryan of the Northern District of California (see August 2, 2002) appear on the list as “recommended retaining.” Gonzales has approved the idea of firing some of the US Attorneys.
Denoted for Firing - US Attorneys listed for possible firing are: David York of the Southern District of Alabama; H.E. “Bud” Cummins of the Eastern District of Arkansas (see January 9, 2002 and April or August 2002); Carol Lam of the Southern District of California (see November 8, 2002); Greg Miller of the Northern District of Florida; David Huber of the Western District of Kentucky; Margaret Chiara of the Western District of Michigan (see November 2, 2001); Jim Greenlee of the Northern District of Mississippi; Dunn O. Lampton of the Southern District of Mississippi; Anna Mills S. Wagoner of the Middle District of North Carolina; John McKay of the Western District of Washington state (see October 24, 2001, Late October 2001 - March 2002, and January 4, 2005); Kasey Warner of the Southern District of West Virginia; and Paula Silsby of Maine. Sampson sends a revised listing later this evening with two more names indicated for possible firing: Thomas B. Heffelfinger of Minnesota and Steven Biskupic of the Eastern District of Wisconsin. Sampson says he based his choices on his own personal judgments formed during his work at the White House and the Justice Department, and on input he received from other Justice Department officials. He will later testify that he cannot recall what any specific official told him about any specific US Attorney. He will call this list a “quick and dirty” compilation and a “preliminary list” that would be subject to “further vetting… down the road” from department leaders. [US Department of Justice, 2005 ; US Department of Justice, 2/15/2005; Washington Post, 3/12/2007; US Department of Justice, 3/13/2007 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Days later, a Federalist Society lawyer will email Mary Beth Buchanan, the director of the Executive Office of US Attorneys, with a recommendation for Lam’s replacement (see March 7, 2005).
Later Recollections - In the 2008 investigation of the US Attorney firings by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General (see September 29, 2008), Gonzales will tell investigators that he supported the concept of evaluating the US Attorneys’ performance to see “where we could do better.” Gonzales will say that he instructed Sampson to consult with the senior leadership of the Justice Department, obtain a consensus recommendation as to which US Attorneys should be removed, and coordinate with the White House on the process. Gonzales will say that he never discussed with Sampson how to evaluate US Attorneys or what factors to consider when discussing with department leaders which US Attorneys should be removed. Sampson will say that he did not share the list with Gonzales or any other department officials, but will say he believes he briefed Gonzales on it. Gonzales will say he recalls no such briefing, nor does he recall ever seeing the list. Then-Deputy Attorney General James Comey and then-Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis will tell OIG investigators about their discussions with Sampson. Comey will recall telling Sampson on February 28, 2005 that he felt Ryan and Lampton belonged in the “weak” category, and will say he may have denoted Heffelfinger and another US Attorney, David O’Meilia, as “weak” performers. Comey will say that he was not aware of Sampson’s work with the White House in compiling a list of US Attorneys to be removed. He will say that he considered his conversation with Sampson “casual” and that Sampson “offhandedly” raised the subject with him. Margolis will recall speaking briefly with Sampson about “weak” performers among the US Attorneys in late 2004 or early 2005, but recall little about the conversation. He will remember that Sampson told him about Miers’s idea of firing all 93 US Attorneys (see November 2004), and agreed with Sampson that such a move would be unwise. Margolis will recall Sampson viewing Miers’s idea as a way to replace some US Attorneys for President Bush’s second term, an idea Margolis will say he endorsed. He was not aware that political considerations may be used to compile a list of potential firings. He will recall looking at a list Sampson had of all 93 Attorneys. He will remember citing Ryan and Lampton as poor performers, as well as Chiara. He will remember saying that eight other US Attorneys might warrant replacement. Sampson will tell OIG investigators that he received no immediate reaction from Miers to the list, and will say he did not remember discussing the basis for his recommendations with her. As for McKay, though Washington state Republicans are sending a steady stream of complaints to the White House concerning McKay’s alleged lack of interest in pursuing voter fraud allegations (see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, and January 4, 2005), Sampson will claim to be unaware of any of them and say he would not have used them as justification to advocate for McKay’s termination. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Carol C. Lam, Kevin Ryan, Anna Mills S. Wagoner, Margaret M. Chiara, Bush administration (43), Paula Silsby, Steven M. Biskupic, Alberto R. Gonzales, US Department of Justice, Thomas B. Heffelfinger, John L. McKay, Jim Greenlee, Mary Beth Buchanan, Harriet E. Miers, James B. Comey Jr., David C. Iglesias, D. Kyle Sampson, David Huber, David Margolis, Kasey Warner, David York, David O’Meilia, Executive Office for US Attorneys (DOJ), Greg Miller, Dunn O. Lampton, H.E. (“Bud”) Cummins III
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
The Seattle Times reports that Washington State Democrats believe the White House is behind the efforts to force a recount in the November 2004 governor’s race. Christine Gregoire (D-WI) defeated Dino Rossi (R-WI) after a recount gave Gregoire a narrow victory (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). Since then Rossi and Washington State Republicans have demanded new recounts or even a new election (see December 29-30, 2004). In January 2005, they filed a lawsuit to overturn the election results, alleging voter fraud tainted the vote (see January 7, 2005, January 24-28, 2005, and February 4, 2005). The FBI and US Attorney John McKay have investigated the allegations of voter fraud and found them groundless (see December 2004 and January 4, 2005), though state Republicans have been displeased with those findings (see Late 2004 or Early 2005, Late 2004, and January 4, 2005). As the lawsuit wends its way through the courts, Democrats tell reporters that the evidence being brought to bear by state Republicans in the lawsuit is worthless. One party attorney says their list of alleged illegal voters would end up as toilet paper “in an outhouse on Blewett Pass” on the mountain highway route that leads to the Chelan County courthouse, where the case will be heard. However, solicitations sent by Washington State Democratic Party chairman Paul Berendt say the White House, led by deputy chief of staff Karl Rove, is pushing the GOP lawsuit. Berendt’s letter warns of “guerrilla tactics” by “right-wing attorneys” and “extremist operatives” who are “meticulously crafting a case to unseat Christine Gregoire.” Berendt stands behind the letter, saying: “[W]e believe this, too. We believe that Rove is in regular contact with people here.” Rossi spokesperson Mary Lane confirms that the Rossi campaign is regularly updating the White House on the case, saying: “They’re interested in what’s going on.… We talk to them about it.” However, “[t]here’s certainly no Karl Rove pulling strings.” White House spokesperson Ken Lisaius says no one in the Bush administration is involved in the lawsuit, telling a reporter: “As reluctant as I am to comment on an inflammatory fund-raising piece, those are just not the facts. The White House is not directing any sort of strategy for the Rossi campaign and to suggest otherwise is to suggest someone is not very well informed.” Berendt points to the Rossi campaign’s use of Washington, DC, attorney Mark Braden as chief counsel; Braden spent 10 years as chief counsel to the Republican National Committee. Berendt says his party uses local attorneys. He also cites Rove’s 1994 involvement in the case of an Alabama state Supreme Court election, in which Rove fought for a recount claiming that the election had been “stolen.” The Times writes: “There are parallels to the current dispute here over the governor’s election. In both cases, Republicans held a news conference with the parents of a military voter to question whether overseas ballots were handled properly. Republicans in both states filed a lawsuit that named a long list of public officials as respondents. Both held rallies; business groups financed media campaigns.” Rove’s candidate eventually won (see Early 1994 - October 1995). Berendt says that Rove was also behind failed attempts to force recalls of Republican Secretary of State Sam Reed and Democratic King County Councilman Dow Constantine. Berendt writes, “We know what they’re doing, and we’re going to tell the world that it’s the Bush team, with the Bush tactics, and Karl Rove pulling the strings that’s trying to defeat us.” [Seattle Times, 3/5/2005]
Entity Tags: Karl C. Rove, Dino Rossi, Christine O. Gregoire, Bush administration (43), Dow Constantine, John L. McKay, Mark Braden, Mary Lane, Seattle Times, Paul Berendt, Sam Reed, Federal Bureau of Investigation, Ken Lisaius
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties, 2004 Elections
FBI documents show that an unnamed political group supplies what it considers to be evidence of voter fraud—the forging of signatures on provisional ballots—to the office of US Attorney John McKay of the Western District of Washington. The group may be the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), headed by Republican activist Tom McCabe, who has pressured McKay to pursue previous allegations of voter fraud in the recent gubernatorial election (see December 2004), evidence that was found to be groundless (see January 4, 2005). McCabe has already demanded that the White House fire McKay and replace him with someone friendlier to Republican interests (see Late 2004). McKay has received pressure on the voter fraud issue from several state Republicans aside from McCabe (see Late 2004 or Early 2005 and January 4, 2005). An Assistant US Attorney in McKay’s office will later confirm that even if the affidavits had been forged, the US Attorney’s office had no jurisdiction over the matter, as the allegations are about a state election and the US Attorney is a federal entity. The group later supplies the evidence to the Republican petitioners in a state case about the election, and its lawyers choose not to pursue the evidence, as the handwriting analysis “proving” the forgeries will be found to be unreliable. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
The Evergreen Freedom Foundation, a conservative activist organization in Washington state, sends a three-page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales urging the Justice Department to investigate US Attorney John McKay (see October 24, 2001) for misconduct. The foundation charges that McKay “has committed malfeasance by systematically refusing to act on evidence of election fraud delivered to his office.” The foundation, along with several Republican leaders in Washington state, say that McKay willfully ignored complaints of election fraud in the hotly contested 2004 governor’s race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA—see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005). McKay opened an investigation, but did not empanel a grand jury to investigate further (see January 4, 2005, Late 2004 or Early 2005 and Late 2004). McKay will later say that his office found no grounds for the voter fraud allegations: “We had lots of instances of incompetent handling of an election. What we didn’t find was a criminal act.” The director of that group’s voter integrity project, Jonathan Bechtle, later says that he believes his group’s complaint was forwarded to the Justice Department office that oversees US Attorneys, but will say, “I couldn’t get any information out of them as to the conclusion.” [Washington Post, 3/19/2007; Iglesias and Seay, 5/2008, pp. 133]
The civil trial brought by Washington State Republicans to try to “settle” the disputed 2004 governor’s race between Dino Rossi (R-WA) and Christine Gregoire (D-WA) opens. Gregoire won the recount to defeat Rossi by a slender 129-vote margin (see December 23, 2004 - January 12, 2005), but Republicans, claiming an array of voter fraud and other inappropriate actions cost Rossi the vote (see December 29-30, 2004), filed a lawsuit to have the election results overturned (see January 7, 2005). The lawyer for the Republican plaintiffs, Dale Foreman, says in his opening statement that he has evidence of “ballot stuffing” in King County, the most populous county in Washington and a center of Gregoire’s Democratic voter strength. “This is not just a case of sloppy. This is a case of election fraud,” Foreman says. Up until today, Republican plaintiffs have insisted that they would not need to allege fraud in the race to win the lawsuit. “This election was stolen from the legal voters of the state by a bizarre combination of illegal voters and bumbling bureaucrats,” Foreman continues. “King County’s failure to track the absentee ballots was not only unlawful, but it opened the door for ballots to be subtracted or added.… The evidence will show partisan bias. And partisan bias is a very politically correct way of saying, ‘Somebody stuffed the ballot box.’ You know, if it walks like a duck and quacks like a duck, it’s probably a duck.” (US Attorney John McKay will later say that he is amazed to hear Foreman make such a claim, telling a reporter in 2007: “I was shocked to see him use the words ‘ballot-stuffing’ because that is a crime. If you say that, you are ethically bound to prove that.” McKay launched an aggressive investigation into voter fraud after the election that bore no fruit—see December 2004, Late 2004, Late 2004 or Early 2005, January 4, 2005, January 4, 2005, April 28, 2005, and May 2005). Foreman tells the jury that “sinister” fraud and corruption “up the food chain” robbed Rossi of the governor’s office. Judge John Bridges quickly puts an end to Foreman’s claims, reminding him and the jury that he and his clients have not included such charges in their case up until now, and Foreman cannot add them at this point in the proceedings. Bridges will allow Foreman and the plaintiffs to introduce evidence against King County, but will not allow them to label it as fraud in the courtroom. The Seattle Times reports, “That matters because a fraud claim would not require Republicans to show that King County’s actions specifically cost Rossi votes or gave… Gregoire her winning margin of 129 votes.” Now, Republicans must show that specific actions by election workers, illegal votes by convicted felons, and other actions directly affected the candidates’ vote totals. “The judge will wait… to see if they connect the dots and show election fraud,” says Thomas Ahearne, an attorney representing Secretary of State Sam Reed (R-WA). The plaintiffs have scheduled no one to testify about allegations of fraud, including ballot stuffing. The plaintiffs want Bridges to subtract votes they consider to be “illegal” from each candidate based, not on demonstrable fraud or illegality, but on the statistical pattern of the overall vote in each precinct. Democrats consider this idea “bogus,” press reports say. [Seattle Times, 5/24/2005; National Journal, 5/24/2005; Seattle Times, 3/13/2007]
Washington State businessman Tom McCabe sends a letter to Representative Doc Hastings (R-WA) demanding that he “ask the White House to replace Mr. McKay” for not adequately pursuing the voter fraud allegations in the 2004 gubernatorial race. McCabe is following up on his earlier insistence that US Attorney John McKay of Western Washington State be fired for not pursuing McCabe’s allegations of voter fraud in the race between Christine Gregoire (D-WA) and Dino Rossi (R-WA) to serve as Washington’s governor (see Late 2004 and Late 2004 or Early 2005) after he provided useless “evidence” of voter fraud in the race (see December 2004 and January 4, 2005). (A judge threw out all of the Republican “evidence” of what they called “voter fraud” in his rejection of the claim—see June 6, 2005). McCabe repeatedly and erroneously claims McKay is a Democrat, and accuses him of deliberately failing to pursue the allegations because of his supposed political stance. McCabe sends copies of the letter to John Fund, a conservative editorialist for the Wall Street Journal; former US Attorney and current federal judge Greg van Tatenhove; and Bob Williams of the conservative Evergreen Freedom Foundation (see May 2005). Hastings will later confirm receiving the memo, and will say that he responded, “I flat out refused to do so, which [Hastings’ chief of staff] Ed Cassidy told him in the bluntest of terms.” Cassidy later says that Hastings’ staff did not reply to the letter. Hastings later says he would not have called the White House to complain about McKay because US Attorneys are executive branch matters. No White House official will recall speaking to Hastings about McKay. [Tom McCabe, 7/5/2005 ; TPM Muckraker, 3/7/2007; Seattle Times, 3/7/2007; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008; Talking Points Memo, 2011] Cassidy raised the issue with McKay months before and was rebuffed (see January 4, 2005). A 2008 Justice Department investigation (see September 29, 2008) will not name McCabe or his organization, the Building Industry Association of Washington (BIAW), as the author of the letter. [Tom McCabe, 7/5/2005 ; US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Entity Tags: Building Industry Association of Washington, Ed Cassidy, Bush administration (43), Bob Williams, Christine O. Gregoire, Evergreen Freedom Foundation, Tom McCabe, Greg van Tatenhove, Dino Rossi, John Fund, Richard (“Doc”) Hastings, John L. McKay
Timeline Tags: Civil Liberties
US Attorney John McKay of Washington State is appointed to chair the Regional Information Sharing Working Group, a subcommittee of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee (AGAC). He begins giving presentations about the Northwest Law Enforcement Information Exchange (LInX—see Early 2004 and Early 2005 - Spring 2005) and its benefits as an information-sharing program. McKay is a passionate advocate for the program and its potential to be used on a nationwide basis to share information between local, state, and federal authorities. According to Principal Associate Deputy Attorney General William Mercer, by early 2006 Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and his office are becoming concerned that McKay is pushing LInX as the Justice Department’s only information-sharing initiative, when in fact it is one of several information-sharing programs used by US Attorneys. By the first of the year, McNulty’s office is receiving complaints from Justice Department law enforcement entities about McKay traveling around the country endorsing another program over the ones used in other US Attorneys’ offices. Later investigation will show that no one shares any of these complaints with McKay. McKay will say that no one in the Justice Department ever told him that they disagreed with his advocacy of LInX, or wanted to use other programs. He will recall getting the impression in an April 2006 meeting with McNulty and several Pentagon officials that McNulty is interested in garnering the assistance of the Defense Department and the Department of Homeland Security to broaden LInX’s usage throughout the nation. McNulty will say that McKay’s impressions were incorrect, that other law enforcement agencies are using other information-sharing platforms, and that other entities, such as the Navy, have different agendas for information sharing with the Defense Department. McNulty will say he is attempting to juggle conflicting concerns, such as to what extent the Justice Department should open its records to other entities. Technology experts in the department are advising McNulty to remain “neutral” about which system(s) the department uses. [US Department of Justice, Office of the Inspector General, 9/29/2008]
Receive weekly email updates summarizing what contributors have added to the History Commons database
Developing and maintaining this site is very labor intensive. If you find it useful, please give us a hand and donate what you can.
If you would like to help us with this effort, please contact us. We need help with programming (Java, JDO, mysql, and xml), design, networking, and publicity. If you want to contribute information to this site, click the register link at the top of the page, and start contributing.