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McKinney draws re-election foe, loses attorney

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Cynthia McKinney
Georgia
Atlanta (Georgia)

ATLANTA, Georgia (CNN) -- Rep. Cynthia McKinney, the Georgia congresswoman whose altercation with a Capitol Hill police officer last month made national headlines, qualified to run for re-election Monday -- and quickly drew a well-known challenger in July's Democratic primary.

Hank Johnson, an attorney and two-term member of the DeKalb County Commission, qualified to challenge McKinney in Georgia's 4th District, a majority black and solidly Democratic district on the eastern side of metropolitan Atlanta.

Meanwhile, James Myart, a prominent Texas civil rights attorney whom McKinney retained after her altercation with the police officer, issued a statement Monday saying he no longer represented her. He did not explain why she was no longer his client.

"I am bound by attorney-client confidentiality not to discuss the past representation," he said.

Arriving at the Georgia Capitol Monday on the first day of qualifying for the July 18 primary, the outspoken McKinney was all smiles and exuding confidence, telling reporters that "people love me because I tell the truth."

"They know I told the truth about September 11th. They know I told the truth about George Bush's war," she said. "And can you imagine that now, in this election season, we're talking about a nuclear strike on (Iran)?"

However, McKinney found herself in the middle of fresh controversy over the weekend, after being overheard calling one of her aides a "fool" over an open microphone -- and then demanding that the Atlanta television station that captured the comments not use them.

Johnson -- who, like McKinney, is black -- represents predominantly black areas of south and east DeKalb County that have long been a stronghold for McKinney. On his Web site, Johnson touts his campaign as being about "solutions, not politics," under the headline, "Taking Care of Home First."

This is not the first time McKinney, 51, who was first elected to the House in 1992, has found herself facing a challenge from within her own party.

In 2002, she was defeated in the Democratic primary by Denise Majette, a black DeKalb judge, after making a series of controversial comments, including a claim that the Bush administration ignored warnings about the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks because "persons close to this administration are poised to make huge profits off America's new war."

McKinney blamed her 2002 defeat on Republicans in the northern end of DeKalb County crossing over to vote against her in the Democratic primary, which is allowed by Georgia law. She will not face that complication this time, as Georgia's GOP-controlled Legislature has since moved much of northern DeKalb into another district.

In 2004, Majette gave up the 4th District seat to run for the U.S. Senate, and McKinney made a comeback, winning a contested primary and easily reclaiming the seat in November.

Since then, McKinney had kept a lower public profile and stayed away from controversy -- until March 29, when she got into an argument with a U.S. Capitol Police officer who did not recognize her at a security checkpoint.

McKinney has never publicly discussed the details of what happened between her and the officer. But a police report of the incident said she struck the officer "in his chest with a closed fist." A District of Columbia grand jury has been investigating the episode but has not returned any charges against the congresswoman.

After initially insisting that the incident was an example of racial profiling, McKinney later reversed course and apologized on the floor of the House, saying, "I am sorry this misunderstanding happened at all. I regret its escalation."

But the episode has continued to dog McKinney. Over the weekend, after being peppered by questions about it during an interview with Atlanta station WGCL-TV, McKinney got out of her chair and walked away, not realizing that she was still wearing a live microphone -- which caught her describing the aide who set up the interview as a "fool." (Watch as McKinney says her comments were "off the record" -- 1:50)

Realizing what had happened, McKinney returned to her chair and told the station's reporter, on camera, that "anything that is captured by your audio, that is captured while I'm not seated in this chair, is off the record and is not permissible to be used. Is that understood?"

WGCL and CNN used both the audio and video.

Candidate qualifying continues through Friday.

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