Of Course They Would

by digby

I wrote about this over the week-end but it's worth mentioning again. This take on it is from James Fallows at The Atlantic:

Five and a half years ago, Thomas Wales was murdered in Seattle. He was shot, through the window of his home, as he sat working at his computer late at night.


The killing took place on October 11, 2001. If the ruins of the World Trade Center had not still been smoking at the time, and if the nation’s attention had not been completely (and naturally) riveted by that event, Tom Wales’s death would likely have become major national news. He was 49 years old, and he had spent the previous 18 years as a federal prosecutor in Seattle, mainly working on white-collar crime cases. He was gregarious, modest, humorous, charming, vigorous, very active in community efforts, widely liked and admired. A significant detail is that one of the civic causes for which Tom Wales worked was gun safety and at the time of his death was head of Washington Cease-Fire.


No one has been charged or arrested in his killing. But among the strange aspects of the case is that law enforcement officials fairly quickly began acting as if they knew exactly who they were looking for. For instance, a story last year in the Seattle Times said this about the case:

Agents have focused on a Bellevue airline pilot as their prime suspect. The pilot had been targeted by Wales in a fraud case that concluded in 2001.

Other reports over the years have emphasized that this same “prime suspect” was a gun enthusiast and zealous opponent of anyone he considered anti-gun. If – as is generally assumed – Wales was murdered for reasons related to his gun safety efforts and his past prosecutions, he would be the first federal prosecutor killed in the line of duty.

As best I have been able to tell from a distance, through the years law-enforcement and political officials from Seattle and Washington state have frequently complained that federal officials in Washington DC were not putting enough resources or effort into the case. The same Seattle Times story mentioned above goes into one of the disagreements. Everyone on the Seattle side of the story remembers that the Department of Justice in Washington DC sent no official representative to his funeral.

Until now, the heartbreak of the Tom Wales case, and the Washington-vs-Washington disagreement over how intensively the search for his killer was being pursued, had seemed entirely separate from Seattle’s involvement in the eight-fired-attorneys matter. John McKay, the U.S. attorney in Seattle who was among the eight dismissed, appeared to have earned the Bush Administration’s hostility in the old-fashioned way: by not filing charges of voter fraud after an extremely close election that went the Democrats’ way. But this weekend’s story in the Washington Post, based on testimony by Alberto Gonzales’s former deputy Kyle Sampson, suggests that McKay’s problems may have begun with his determination to keep on pushing to find Tom Wales’s killer.

In my earlier post on this rather snarkily referred to that notorious quote by Wayne Lapierre that the NRA would be working out of the white house if Bush were elected. But there is another clue from that period that lends credence to the suspicions that the Bush Justice Department would refuse to put resources toward finding his killer because of Wales' position on guns.

December 6, 2001

The Justice Department has refused to let the F.B.I. check its records to determine whether any of the 1,200 people detained after the Sept. 11 attacks had bought guns, F.B.I. and Justice Department officials say.

The department made the decision in October after the F.B.I. asked to examine the records it maintains on background checks to see if any detainees had purchased guns in the United States.

Mindy Tucker, a spokeswoman for the Justice Department, said the request was rejected after several senior officials decided that the law creating the background check system did not permit the use of the records to investigate individuals.

We don't know who the senior officials were, but they weren't members of Ashcroft's legal staff.

July 24, 2002

Congressional testimony by Attorney General John Ashcroft last December that the F.B.I. could not legally use records of gun background checks to investigate terrorism suspects conflicted with a formal opinion by his own legal staff, a report issued yesterday by the General Accounting Office shows.

In testimony to the Senate Judiciary Committee on Dec. 6, Mr. Ashcroft defended his policy of refusing to allow the Federal Bureau of Investigation to check its records to determine whether any of the 1,200 people detained after Sept. 11 had bought guns. Mr. Ashcroft asserted that the law which created the National Instant Check System for gun purchases ''outlaws and bans'' use in criminal investigations.

Mr. Ashcroft said the law ''indicates that the only permissible use for the National Instant Check System is to audit the maintenance of that system.''

But the General Accounting Office report contains an opinion by the Justice Department's Office of Legal Counsel, dated Oct. 1, which seems to allow the checks under some conditions. ''We see nothing in the NICS regulations that prohibits the F.B.I. from deriving additional benefits from checking audit log records as long as one of the genuine purposes'' is auditing the use of the system, the report says.

Moreover, the Office of Legal Counsel added, it was further convinced such checks were legal because the bureau of investigation had been ''using this method'' all along.

The opinion was written after the bureau asked the Justice Department for permission to examine the records on background checks to see if any detainees had purchased guns.

It is unclear who in the Justice Department read the opinion. But sometime in October, the department rejected the F.B.I.'s request.

We all know that they pretty much shredded every other amendment in the Bill Of Rights during that period, but even as Manhattan was still smoldering, they refused to buck the NRA and give the FBI permission to look over the firearm records. That is some powerful mojo. The NRA wouldn't give an inch even to find terrorists in the immediate aftermath of 9/11. Why would anyone think they'd be reluctant to put the screws to McKay in Washington because he kept trying to find the killer of a prosecutor who was a gun control advocate?

Of course they would. The NRA is the most powerful special interest in America and nobody is allowed to mess with their agenda. Nobody.

Update: Here are a bunch of article on the Wales case. It sure seems as if something is fishy.