Former U.S. Attorney: Why I Was Fired

John McKay

President Bush says he is troubled by the Justice Department's misleading explanations to Congress of why it fired eight U.S. attorneys, but that the dismissals were "appropriate." In an exclusive interview with CBS News correspondent Sandra Hughes, one of the fired prosecutors says it certainly wasn't in his case.

"I am disappointed with the president," says John McKay, former chief prosecutor for western Washington state. "I am disappointed with the attorney general."

McKay was fired in December for reasons he now believes had nothing to do with the way he did his job — but very much to do with politics.

"I asked for the reasons that I was being asked to resign and I was given no reasons," he says.

McKay's office convicted the "millennium bomber" who was planning to blow up the Los Angeles airport and won a conviction against James Ujaama, who was planning to build an al Qaeda training camp in Oregon. He was also lauded for cracking down on drug smuggling from Canada.

So when the attorney general said McKay was fired for performance reasons, he was livid.

"I knew that was false and I felt obligated to speak up," McKay says.

CBS News obtained McKay's most recent performance review, conducted just three months before his firing. In it, he was described as "effective, well-regarded and a capable leader."

McKay feels "really proud of the work that was done in my office and the excellent run I had in five years."

Justice officials say they had a problem with the way McKay shared information with local and federal law enforcement officials. But McKay believes it was what he didn't do that got him fired.

A Democratic candidate won Washington state's 2004 gubernatorial race by just a couple of hundred votes. McKay didn't call a grand jury to investigate questions of voter fraud, and he heard about it when he sought a promotion.

"I did apply to be a federal judge last fall, and at that time questions were directed to me about the 2004 governor's election in Washington state," he says.

Shortly after, McKay was listed as a U.S. attorney "being pushed out" in an e-mail between the Department of Justice and the White House.

"Any individual prosecutor is replaceable," McKay concedes. "What's not replaceable is our reputation for fairness and our reputation for independence from political influences."

No longer prosecuting al Qaeda suspects or drug smugglers for the U.S. government, McKay's now teaching law to students who may get a crash course in Bush administration politics.