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Fuel to the Firings


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Another fired prosecutor, John McKay, of Seattle, tells NEWSWEEK that local Republicans pressured him to launch a criminal probe of voting fraud that would tilt a deadlocked Washington governor's race. "They wanted me to go out and start arresting people," he says, adding that he refused to do so because there was "no evidence." After McKay was fired in December, he says he also got a phone call from a "clearly nervous" Elston asking if he intended to go public: "He was offering me a deal: you stay silent and the attorney general won't say anything bad about you." (Elston says he "can't imagine" how McKay got that impression. The call was meant to reassure McKay that the A.G. would not detail the reasons for the firings.)

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Justice officials say the dismissals were for "job-performance reasons," as well as for failure to pursue Bush administration policy priorities. But where did the list of particular U.S. attorneys to fire come from? Two senior Justice officials, who didn't want to be named discussing the dismissals, tell NEWSWEEK that Kyle Sampson, Gonzales's chief of staff, developed the list of eight prosecutors to be fired last October—with input from the White House. In a recent statement, the White House said it approved the firings, but didn't sign off on specific names.

Gonzales is now being accused of falling down on the job himself. Even as he struggled last week to calm the outrage over the fired attorneys, another scandal broke out: an investigation by the Justice inspector general showed that the FBI had repeatedly misused a Patriot Act provision to secretly collect personal data—including financial records—from citizens without a judicial warrant. Gonzales said there was "no excuse" for the bureau's actions, and he demanded that FBI Director Robert Mueller find out "what went wrong and who is accountable." Asked by reporters whether Gonzales was considering firing Mueller or other senior officials for the apparent intrusion on civil liberties, the A.G. didn't answer. The issue of "job performance," it seems, is becoming an ever more awkward subject at the Justice Department.

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