Yesterday, the number two official at the Justice Department, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, announced that he would depart later this summer, becoming the “fourth and highest-ranking Justice Department official to resign since the uproar began in Congress over the dismissals of the United States attorneys.” In a letter written to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales yesterday, McNulty made no mention of the attorney firings as the reason for his departure. “The financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career,” he wrote. McNulty, who in the 1990s worked for House Republicans during the impeachment of President Bill Clinton, provided a number of statements relating to the attorney firings that fueled the investigation. Privately, he blamed others in the department for “misleading him on the matter” and for keeping him out of the loop on the firings process. Sen. Chuck Schumer (D-NY) said McNulty is the wrong fall guy. “It seems ironic that Paul McNulty who at least tried to level with the committee goes while Gonzales who stonewalled the committee is still in charge.” As McNulty departs, the nomination process for his successor should provide Congress a renewed opportunity to get answers regarding the White House’s role in the firing of the prosecutors.
- Despite his own misleading statements before Congress, McNulty is the wrong man to go in this scandal. On Feb. 6, 2007, McNulty told a Senate panel that most of the ousted prosecutors were fired for “performance-related” issues. But as the performance records of the fired attorneys became public, it was revealed that nearly all of them held positive job evaluations from the Department of Justice. One fired U.S. attorney — Nevada’s Daniel Bogden — said that in a phone conversation with McNulty prior to his firing he was told performance “did not enter into the equation” as a reason for his dismissal. McNulty also told Congress that “the decision to fire the eight U.S. attorneys in December was made solely by the Justice Department. He was furious, aides said, after learning later that [Gonzales’ chief of staff Kyle] Sampson had been talking to the White House about potential firings since at least January 2005.” McNulty acknowledged providing inaccurate information to Congress about the dismissals, “but blamed the errors on inadequate preparation by others more deeply involved in the removals.”
- McNulty’s testimony raises more questions about the account given to Congress by the attorney general. In his February testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee, McNulty acknowledged during contentious testimony that fired U.S. attorney Bud Cummins had been let go simply because the administration wanted to name former Republican National Committee operative Timothy Griffin in his place. In that hearing, Schumer asked, “So, in other words, Bud Cummins was fired for no reason. There was no cause?” McNulty answered, “No cause provided in his case, as I am aware of it.” That revelation sparked additional inquiries as Congress sought to determine whether the other firings were aimed at interfering with ongoing cases. One day after his testimony, a Justice Department spokesman sent an email to other aides saying Gonzales was “extremely upset” that McNulty acknowledged the true cause for the firing. While McNulty’s testimony “infuriated” Gonzales, “eventually, McNulty’s position proved to be correct.”
- Serious questions remain about the involvement of the White House in the dismissals. McNulty was “largely left out of the loop when Gonzales” in early 2005 ordered his chief of staff to identify top prosecutors for dismissal. McNulty has said he was not aware of the plans until last fall, “two months before the firings were executed.” McNulty told one fired attorney that he’d had only “limited input” in the firing process. Commenting on McNulty’s dismissal, Rep. Rahm Emanuel (D-IL) said yesterday that key questions remain unanswered. “We continue to wait for answers: Who developed the list of the U.S. attorneys to be fired? How did U.S. attorneys end up on that list? What happened to the public corruption cases those U.S. attorneys were investigating at the time of their departures?” And as Congress seeks the answers to those questions, it will undoubtedly call upon McNulty to help provide answers. “As we press on with our investigation, we look forward to his cooperation,” said House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers (D-MI).