No. 2 Justice official McNulty quits over U.S. attorney firings
Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty on May 14 became the highest-ranking casualty of the ongoing debate on Capitol Hill over the firing of eight U.S. attorneys, telling Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales in a letter he plans to resign as the Justice Department’s No. 2 official.
Mr. McNulty, according to department officials who asked not to be named, said in the letter that he will return to private law practice to help meet financial obligations in sending his children to college, adding that he would leave the post he has held for 18 months this fall or sooner if a replacement is named.
The resignation, first reported by the Associated Press, also was related by Mr. McNulty to federal prosecutors in a closed-door meeting in San Antonio. Department officials said Mr. McNulty has told top aides that he had planned to leave the Justice Department post after two years but moved the date up in the wake of the congressional probe.
Two top Justice Department officials also confirmed that Mr. McNulty was angry over accusations by lawmakers on Capitol Hill that tied him to the firings, linking him directly to what has been described by lawmakers — but not proven — as a purge for political reasons.
Mr. McNulty — a former U.S. attorney in Virginia whose four-year tenure involved several high-profile terrorism cases, including the conviction of September 11 co-conspirator Zacarias Moussaoui — also angered Mr. Gonzales in February when he told the Senate Judiciary Committee that H.E. “Bud” Cummins III, U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Arkansas, had been terminated to make room for an aide to White House adviser Karl Rove.
Mr. Cummins was fired despite having received a positive job review and, Mr. McNulty testified, was removed solely to give the post to Timothy Griffin, also a former Republican National Committee opposition-research director.
According to an e-mail by his spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, which was surrendered to congressional investigators, Mr. Gonzales was “extremely upset” over the testimony of his top deputy. During a private interview with Judiciary Committee staffers, Mr. Gonzales’ former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, also said the attorney general was angered by Mr. McNulty’s testimony because he had put the White House’s involvement in the firings “in the public sphere.”
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, called the resignation the latest example of how scandal-plagued the Justice Department leadership has become and said “the American people deserve a strong and independent Department of Justice with leaders who enforce the law without fear or favor.”
Sen. Charles E. Schumer, the New York Democrat who has led the Justice Department investigation and has publicly demanded Mr. Gonzales’ resignation, said 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.”
“This administration owes us a lot better,” he said.
Mr. Gonzales has acknowledged that he mishandled the firings and his public explanation of them, but maintained that nothing improper or illegal occurred. White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said President Bush “was pleased with the attorney general’s testimony” and continues to have “full confidence” in Mr. Gonzales.