Two new items (but no resolution) on the Tom Wales case

Thomas Wales was, of course, the federal prosecutor who was murdered in his home in Seattle six years ago. The widespread assumption in Seattle's law enforcement community is that he was killed in revenge for a past prosecution, and by a person who strongly objected to Wales's very prominent role as a gun-safety advocate. (Background here, and in a Jeffrey Toobin article this summer here.)

Wales came into the national news this spring through testimony suggesting that the U.S. Attorney in Seattle, John McKay, had been fired by the Bush administration because he was trying too hard to solve the case. (To spell out the reasoning: if this was a gun-control killing, then, allegedly, the Administration didn't want to get on the wrong side of the gun lobby by looking too aggressively for the killer.)

This week, two amplifying bits of information from the Seattle press.

From the Seattle Times, a fascinating interview with a friend of the man whom local authorities have called their "prime suspect" but whom they have never indicted. And from Crosscut, a wonderful new online-news site covering the Northwest, an account of a speech this weekend by John McKay himself.*

Before the Wales-killing angle arose, most people -- apparently including McKay -- assumed that he had been fired for the same reason as several other US attorneys cashiered at the same time: because he hadn't done enough to pursue Republican complaints about Democratic "voter fraud." McKay, by the way, is a Republican, and from a politically-active Republican family. In his speech this weekend, McKay described his reaction when he heard about the possible Tom Wales connection:

And I want to tell you — and this is the first time that I've had an opportunity to say so publicly, and I thought today was the time that I should do it — is to say that that day I didn't laugh, I cried.

And I e-mailed my seven colleagues, former United State attorneys, and I told them that this was the only day that I was sorry I ever worked for the Justice Department. Now I got over that. I think I got over it the next day, but I thought that what was said was totally wrong, totally disrespectful and unacceptable to this community. I won't even mention what I felt it meant to the Wales family and to those that love Tom Wales.

But if it was an indication of the lack of respect among some at the Justice Department, it couldn't have been done with a greater exclamation point than their final reason for my dismissal.

Just from words on the screen, it's not entirely clear what McKay means with "what was said was totally wrong." A video of his speech (which I haven't yet watched) is here. But here's a guess about his larger intent: he was speaking at the annual dinner of the Thomas C. Wales foundation, and he received a standing ovation when he was done.

* Eric Redman of Seattle, a close friend of mine and at one time a brother-in-law of Wales', pointed out these articles to me.

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James Fallows is a national correspondent for The Atlantic and has written for the magazine since the late 1970s. He has reported extensively from outside the United States and once worked as President Carter's chief speechwriter. His latest book is China Airborne. More

James Fallows is based in Washington as a national correspondent for The Atlantic. He has worked for the magazine for nearly 30 years and in that time has also lived in Seattle, Berkeley, Austin, Tokyo, Kuala Lumpur, Shanghai, and Beijing. He was raised in Redlands, California, received his undergraduate degree in American history and literature from Harvard, and received a graduate degree in economics from Oxford as a Rhodes scholar. In addition to working for The Atlantic, he has spent two years as chief White House speechwriter for Jimmy Carter, two years as the editor of US News & World Report, and six months as a program designer at Microsoft. He is an instrument-rated private pilot. He is also now the chair in U.S. media at the U.S. Studies Centre at the University of Sydney, in Australia.

Fallows has been a finalist for the National Magazine Award five times and has won once; he has also won the American Book Award for nonfiction and a N.Y. Emmy award for the documentary series Doing Business in China. He was the founding chairman of the New America Foundation. His recent books Blind Into Baghdad (2006) and Postcards From Tomorrow Square (2009) are based on his writings for The Atlantic. His latest book is China Airborne. He is married to Deborah Fallows, author of the recent book Dreaming in Chinese. They have two married sons.

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