Saturday, April 28, 2007

"Fired U.S. Attorneys Will Meet in Seattle"

Normally, anything labeled "public policy forum" in the e-mail in-box gets automatically deleted here at Capitol Briefing, especially when it's being hosted in the "other" Washington, way out in Seattle.

But when it's a public policy forum on U.S. attorneys hosted by none other than John McKay, Capitol Briefing takes note!
McKay, the ousted U.S. attorney for the Western District of Washington, is now a visiting professor at the Seattle University School of Law. On May 9 he's hosting a pair of his fellow fired federal prosecutors for a forum on the mass sackings last year.

Joining McKay will be David C. Iglesias, the former U.S. attorney for New Mexico, and Paul K. Charlton, the former prosecutor for Arizona. McKay, Iglesias and Charlton are three of the most controversial firings of the eight ousted prosecutors, because they were either conducting sensitive investigations of Republicans or under fire for not prosecuting Democrats around the time of their dismissals on Dec. 7. All three were also contacted by members of Congress or their staff at a sensitive time regarding ongoing criminal corruption investigations.

The four-hour symposium could spark sharp criticism of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and the White House for alleged politicization of the Justice Department. One session is titled: "The 2007 Experience -- Myths and Realities: explanation of the current incidents, with comparison of historical similarities and differences."

McKay told the Senate and House Judiciary committees in early March that the chief of staff to Rep. Doc Hastings (R-Wash.) contacted him in early 2005 to inquire about alleged Democratic voter fraud in the 2004 gubernatorial election. McKay said he cut off the staffer -- Ed Cassidy, who now works for Minority Leader John Boehner (R-Ohio) -- before Cassidy ventured into inappropriate talks about an ongoing case.

Iglesias testified that Sen. Pete Domenici (R-N.M.) and Rep. Heather Wilson (R-N.M.) called him in the weeks before Wilson's razor-thin reelection last November. Iglesias said he felt pressured him to bring indictments against Albuquerque Democrats.

And Charlton has been in the news this week because of reports that his office was also contacted by a staffer about a probe, this one an ongoing corruption investigation of the aide's boss, Rep. Rick Renzi (R-Ariz.).

Hastings and Cassidy deny the call to McKay was inappropriate. Domenici and Wilson admit they called Iglesias but deny pressuring him, although Domenici acknowledges he asked about the corruption case and has apologized for the call. Renzi has denied any wrongdoing and today issued a statement to Roll Call denying rumors of his retirement.

McKay's legal eagle panel also includes two law professors who've been highly critical of the political nature of the Justice Department under President Bush.

James Eisenstein, a law professor at Penn State and author of a book on U.S. attorneys, told The Washington Post's Dan Eggen and Amy Goldstein that it was "very unusual" for Gonzales to appoint so many of his own top aides to the federal prosecutor outposts around the country.

And Laurie L. Levenson, professor at Loyola Law School, testified before Senate Judiciary Feb. 6 that "the increasing politicization of federal law enforcement" was having a "devastating impact on the morale" in U.S. attorney's offices around the nation.

Incidentally, former Rep. Rick White (R-Wash.), one of three finalists to replace McKay, may want to attend the legal forum -- and not just to learn of the travails of being a federal prosecutor. White isn't allowed to practice law in Washington because he still needs 20 to 30 "continuing law education" credits. While White can't practice law, he has run a TechNet, a large high-tech lobbying association in Washington. And he's been a GOP donor, including $1,000 checks the past two election cycles to Rep. Dave Reichert (R-Wash.), the lawmaker who forwarded White's name to the White House for consideration.

But Luckily, according to the press release for the symposium, lawyers can get 3.5 credits for their required continuing legal education to maintain their law license.

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