My Congressman and Obstruction of Justice

Watergate conspirators went to prison for attempting to influence United States Attorneys in their prosecutorial decisions. Such conduct constitutes the crime of obstruction of justice. My congressman, Doc Hastings, is guilty of the same crime, but escapes prosecution.

John McKay, then U.S. Attorney in Western Washington, conducted an investigation into possible voter fraud, after the close Washington gubernatorial election in November 2004. Republicans, the ranks to which McKay belonged, hoped to overturn the election of Governor Christine Gregoire or punish some of her supporters.

In late December 2004 or early January 2005, John McKay received a call from Ed Cassidy, Doc Hastings’ chief of staff, on behalf of the congressman. Cassidy had never phoned McKay before, but McKay recognized Cassidy as Congressman Hastings’ top aide. John McKay knew Cassidy called on behalf of Hastings and considered the call as if the Congressman himself phoned. McKay also knew immediately what Cassidy wanted and that Cassidy would enter “dangerous territory.”

During the phone call, Ed Cassidy informed United States Attorney McKay that “the purpose of the call was to inquire on behalf of Congressman Hastings” about the status of the ongoing federal investigation of voter fraud and steps being taken in furtherance of the investigation. Cassidy asked McKay about “future action” in the case. McKay responded by citing information already “publicly available.” When Cassidy pressed further, McKay told him to stop.

John McKay was dismayed by Ed Cassidy’s call, believing the conversation might constitute obstruction of justice. McKay considered the call “unusual and serious.” McKay told Cassidy that he was certain he would not want to ask about confidential prosecution matters. Cassidy ended the call “in a most expeditious fashion” when McKay pointed out that it is “improper” for a lawmaker to lobby a U.S. attorney on an ongoing investigation.

In addition to being criminal, Ed Cassidy’s call, on the behest of Congressman Doc Hastings, violated congressional ethical rules. Cassidy’s call violated Chapter 7 of the United States House of Representatives Ethics Manual, which prohibits members from contacting executive or agency officials regarding the merits of matters under their formal consideration. House rules also state that, if a member wants to affect the outcome litigation, the member can file a brief with the court, make a floor statement, or insert a statement into the Congressional Record. Directly calling officials to influence an on-going enforcement matter is not an option.

House of Representatives ethics rules also state a member may not, after calling an executive officer, claim he or she merely requested “background information” or a “status report.” The House recognizes such requests “may in effect be an indirect or subtle effort to influence the substantive outcome of the proceedings.” When admonishing former Majority Leader Tom DeLay (R-TX), the House Ethics Committee ruled that members are prohibited from asking an executive branch employee to engage in an activity having an impermissible political purpose.

When asked about the phone call to Attorney John McKay, Doc Hastings claimed Cassidy’s call was “entirely appropriate,” and that the call was “a simple inquiry and nothing more.” Hastings said if McKay found Cassidy’s call troubling, he should have called him to complain.

John McKay, after consulting with the Justice Department’s Voting Rights Section, decided not convene a grand jury to investigate the Washington State election. McKay announced: “There was no evidence of criminal wrongdoing and nothing to take to the grand jury.”

Before Ed Cassidy’s call, John McKay was on a Department of Justice list for a potential appointment as a United States District Court Judge. After the call, White House Counsel Harriet Miers summoned McKay to the White House for an interview for a judicial appointment, and Miers questioned McKay why he did not pursue a voter fraud probe. A Miers’ assistant also asked McKay to explain criticism of how he “mishandled” the governor’s race investigation.

After Cassidy’s call, the Department of Justice added John McKay’s name, despite a glowing employment evaluation, to a list of United States Attorneys subject to termination. On December 7, 2006, Michael Battle, of the Justice Department, called McKay and directed him to resign by the end of January. McKay asked Battle: Why? Battle gave no reason. John McKay, who served at the pleasure of the president, resigned.

Doc Hastings remains the ranking Republican on the House Ethics Committee. Ed Cassidy is now a senior adviser to House Minority Leader John Boehner of Ohio, offering advice on such subjects as ethics and election law.

On March 8, 2007, the nonpartisan Citizens for Responsibility and Ethics in Washington (CREW) asked the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct (Ethics Committee) to investigate whether Doc Hastings and Ed Cassidy violated House rules by improperly contacting a sitting U.S. Attorney. CREW’s complaint alleged that Cassidy contacted McKay to discuss an ongoing investigative matter for the impermissible political purpose of impacting the Washington gubernatorial election. At the time of the request, Melanie Sloan, CREW’s executive director, stated: “It is outrageous that Rep. Hastings who, ironically enough, is the ranking member of the House ethics committee, attempted to use the criminal justice system to interfere with a gubernatorial election. Rep. Hastings should step down from his position on the committee pending an investigation into his conduct.” The House Ethics Committee refused to investigate.  

In September 2007, CREW listed my congressman, Doc Hastings, on its short list of Most Corrupt Members of Congress.

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~ by wa4thcddems on February 5, 2010.

One Response to “My Congressman and Obstruction of Justice”

  1. […] My Congressman and Obstruction of Justice […]

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