I have an email correspondence going on with AG Rob McKenna’s office on a number of questions regarding former U.S. Attorney John McKay, and what if any role McKenna might have played in both the dismissal and the search for a replacement. McKenna’s communications people are good. Their response was prompt, concise and deftly worded in a way that does not exactly provide a direct answer to some of my questions. I’ll report back after they reply to my follow-up.
To be fair, McKenna was heading out to Montesano and Grays Harbor this morning, so my answers were provided secondhand by Communications Director Janelle Guthrie. But she did manage to offer one direct quote from her boss:
“We had a good relationship with John McKay. He was an excellent attorney, highly respected by other prosecutors as well. I think President Bush made a mistake.”
Hmm. I didn’t actually ask what McKenna thought about McKay’s job performance or President Bush’s decision to fire him, so the fact that he chose to offer his opinion unprompted is telling. (Not to mention a display of political savvy that is apparently beyond the reach of fellow Republican Dave Reichert.) For by publicly defending McKay and criticizing Bush, McKenna would appear to be separating himself from both the widening scandal, and the slow-motion implosion of the Bush administration itself.
But taken at his word, his statement also does something else that I hope levelheaded voters will take to heart: it hammers yet another nail in the coffin of the oft-repeated GOP meme that Democrats somehow stole the 2004 gubernatorial election.
As the New York Times points out in an editorial today, “phony fraud charges” were at the center of the U.S. attorney firings:
In its fumbling attempts to explain the purge of United States attorneys, the Bush administration has argued that the fired prosecutors were not aggressive enough about addressing voter fraud. It is a phony argument; there is no evidence that any of them ignored real instances of voter fraud.
[…] John McKay, one of the fired attorneys, says he was pressured by Republicans to bring voter fraud charges after the 2004 Washington governor’s race, which a Democrat, Christine Gregoire, won after two recounts. Republicans were trying to overturn an election result they did not like, but Mr. McKay refused to go along. “There was no evidence,” he said, “and I am not going to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury.”
So if McKenna, fully aware of McKay’s public comments, is now vouching for McKay’s performance and criticizing his firing… isn’t he also vouching for the integrity of the 2004 gubernatorial election?
McKay refused to drag innocent people in front of a grand jury, which is of course exactly what many Republicans wanted him to do. That is what the EFF’s Bob Williams and the BIAW’s Tom McCabe angrily demanded. That is what all six Republicans on the King County Council demanded when they wrote a letter to U.S. Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. That is what our friend Stefan at (un)Sound Politics continues to demand today. When then-WSRP Chair Chris Vance describes speaking with McKay and complaining to the White House, he appears incredulous that good Republicans wouldn’t subvert our supposedly impartial judicial system for partisan political purposes:
“We had a Republican secretary of state, a Republican prosecutor in King County and a Republican U.S. attorney, and no one was doing anything.”
Not to mention a Republican state Attorney General, Rob McKenna. In 2004 the entire investigative, prosecutorial and administrative apparatus was controlled by loyal Republicans, and yet there were no indictments, there were no prosecutions, and there were no grand juries. Why? For the same reason a cherry-picked judge in a Republican county dismissed “with prejudice” all allegations of fraud: there was no evidence.
I believe a sort of mass psychosis set in to our state’s Republican establishment in the wake of Dino Rossi’s incredibly close and understandably frustrating loss to Gov. Chris Gregoire — a mindset of dark thoughts in which party stalwarts cynically determined that absolutely everything and anything was possible at the hands of their enemies across the aisle… and that absolutely everything and anything was permissible in response. Fed by the paranoid fantasies of the right-wing blogs, and the ruthless partisanship of the BIAW and EFF, the state GOP not only pursued a hopeless legal contest, but set in motion a series of events that ultimately led to McKay’s firing. The WSRP made the biggest political mistake possible — it came to believe its own propaganda — and in so doing played a major role in instigating a national scandal that threatens Gonzales himself, and further tarnishes the Republican brand.
“President Bush made a mistake.” Absolutely, and in more ways than one. It remains to be seen if McKenna’s efforts to separate himself from this mistake after the fact are entirely supported by the record of his own actions and statements at the time.