Fired prosecutors allege political calls

WASHINGTON – Alleging heavy-handed political pressure, fired U.S. prosecutors – including the one for Western Washington – testified Tuesday they felt “leaned on” by Republican lawmakers to seek indictments and hushed by a Justice Department official who did not want them talking about their dismissals.

The Senate Judiciary Committee is looking into the firing of eight federal prosecutors by the Department of Justice in recent months.

Former U.S. Attorney John McKay said that the chief of staff for a Washington state congressman called him to ask about an investigation into the disputed election of Democratic Gov. Chris Gregoire.

McKay told the panel that Ed Cassidy, then chief of staff to Rep. Doc Hastings, R-Wash., asked him about allegations of voter fraud in the 2004 election, which Gregoire narrowly won after two recounts.

McKay said he told Cassidy he was sure that the call was not intended to suggest that Hastings was calling for a federal investigation, because that would be improper.

Cassidy “agreed it would be improper” and ended the call, McKay said. He immediately told his staff about the call and agreed with them that “I had stopped Mr. Cassidy from doing anything improper,” McKay said.

Still, “I was concerned and dismayed by the call,” which came weeks after the November 2004 election, McKay said.

During a break in the hearing, Cassidy told reporters he “didn’t do anything inappropriate.”

Cassidy said he only asked questions on the record about publicly available information. He described the brief conversation as a routine call on the status of an investigation.

McKay also said White House lawyers later asked him about why he had “mishandled” the election probe during an interview for McKay’s unsuccessful bid to become a federal judge.

McKay, the former chief prosecutor for Western Washington, was fired Dec. 7.

McKay and five other of eight ex-prosecutors recently ousted prosecutors said they were fired without explanation. Several described what they said was improper pressure by Republicans on pending cases.

McKay was fired for “policy differences,” and “the particular policies … on information sharing,” said William Moschella, an associate deputy attorney general who also testified Tuesday.

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