At the height of the controversy over John McKay's firing last year as the U.S. attorney in Seattle, politicians and pundits of all stripes...

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At the height of the controversy over John McKay’s firing last year as the U.S. attorney in Seattle, politicians and pundits of all stripes weighed in on the flap.

But even when the din was loudest, one of Washington state’s most influential Republicans remained silent.

Mike McKay, the U.S. attorney for Western Washington from 1989 to 1993, the state vice chair of President Bush’s 2004 re-election campaign and John McKay’s older brother, would not comment publicly.

That changed Monday when the elder McKay blasted outgoing Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and said “he should have resigned months ago.”

“My initial reaction was, ‘It’s about time,’ ” Mike McKay said after Gonzales announced he would leave his post Sept. 17.

“If you simply accept as fact what [Gonzales] has said, that he was not in the loop in connection with the firing of the U.S. attorneys,” McKay said, “that is a dereliction of duty and he should have resigned as soon as that became known.”

The controversy centered on whether the firings were tied to political motivations instead of performance.

John McKay echoed his brother’s sentiments and said Gonzales’ departure should make life easier for his former crime-fighting colleagues.

“This will be an enormous relief for the hardworking women and men of law enforcement in Washington state,” McKay said in a statement. “They have been embarrassed and disappointed by this attorney general, and now they can return to the important work of protecting us from violent crime, international drug dealers and terrorists.”

John McKay is now senior vice president and general counsel at Getty Images in Seattle.

Mike McKay is a seasoned lawyer who chooses his words with care. And he left no doubt Monday about his disdain for Gonzales and the way he treated not only his brother, but also the agency both McKays served.

“Because of the actions of the attorney general and other high-ranking officials, there is a cloud hanging over the Justice Department,” Mike McKay said. “It’s a cloud that really questions the integrity and the judgment” of the individuals running the department in Washington, D.C.

Such a loss of integrity is especially egregious at the Justice Department, because “these are people that make decisions about whether people go to prison or not,” McKay said.

Republican members of the Washington state congressional delegation — Reps. Dave Reichert of Auburn, Doc Hastings of Pasco and Cathy McMorris Rodgers of Spokane — did not respond to calls seeking comment.

Washington state Attorney General Rob McKenna, also a Republican, declined to comment.

Democrats in the state welcomed Gonzales’ departure.

“This is a good day for fairness and justice across our nation,” Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., said in a statement.

“Every American deserves to have confidence in our system of justice, but this administration and Alberto Gonzales in particular have consistently injected partisan politics into a process that requires independence,” she said.

Rep. Jay Inslee, D-Bainbridge Island, who called for Congress to investigate whether to impeach Gonzales, said the attorney general’s departure should have come sooner.

“This should have happened a year, at least, ago,” Inslee said. “We should never allow the Justice Department to become a political tool of the White House.”

Rep. Adam Smith, D-Tacoma, said “Gonzales’ divisive tenure has been destructive to the interests of our country.”

Smith urged President Bush to choose a nominee for the post “with the highest integrity and a commitment to the protection of the rights of U.S. citizens.”

Mike McKay declined to comment on what the firing of his brother has meant to him personally. But he hopes an ongoing investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general will finally reveal why his brother and eight other U.S. attorneys were fired last year.

Staff reporters Christina Siderius and Alicia Mundy contributed to this report. David Bowermaster: 206-464-2724