The Washington Post
Justice Dept.’s No. 2 to Counter Claims of Untruths Over Firings
McNulty Also to Tell Panel He Doesn’t Think Officials Misled Him
Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty today will defend his past statements about the firings of U.S. attorneys, rebutting allegations from other Bush administration officials that he misled Congress by suggesting there was no substantial White House role in the dismissals, according to prepared remarks released yesterday.
McNulty, who is leaving the Justice Department this summer, also will tell a House Judiciary subcommittee that he does not believe that other senior officials, including former Justice aide Monica M. Goodling, purposely hid the extent of the White House’s role in the firings.
The prepared remarks indicate that McNulty, 49, will attempt to hold a middle ground as he responds to sharp congressional questions, by defending his statements without leveling accusations at the administration officials who have accused him of giving inaccurate testimony.
“When I testified in February before the Senate Judiciary Committee, I testified truthfully, providing the committee with the facts as I knew them at that time,” McNulty says in his remarks.
“I want to be clear today, however, that at all times, I have sought to provide Congress with the truth,” he adds later. “And I also want to be clear that I do not believe, and have never believed, that anyone in the Department of Justice set out to mislead me so that I might provide Congress with inaccurate information about this matter.”
The firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year have prompted an uproar in Congress and demands by lawmakers that McNulty’s boss, Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales, resign.
Rep. Linda T. Sanchez (D-Calif.), chairman of the subcommittee that is holding today’s hearing, said yesterday that “the Bush administration still can’t get its story straight” about the prosecutor firings.
“I am hopeful that Mr. McNulty can help clear up some of the numerous contradictions in the Bush administration’s explanations on this issue,” Sanchez said.
Today’s testimony will cap a dramatic turnabout for McNulty, the highest-ranking casualty of the imbroglio. Just six months ago, as a former U.S. attorney who had become second-in-command at the Justice Department, McNulty was widely regarded as a likely candidate for appointment to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 4th Circuit.
But in May testimony, offered under a limited grant of immunity from prosecution, Goodling accused McNulty of providing inaccurate testimony to Congress and of seeking to obscure the White House’s role in carrying them out. Gonzales, after first playing down his role, also named McNulty as the Justice aide most responsible for the dismissals.
McNulty has denied Goodling’s allegations and has portrayed his role in the firings as limited.
Internal e-mails and other documents show that McNulty’s initial testimony that most of the prosecutors were fired for “performance related” reasons prompted sharp criticism from Gonzales and other Bush administration officials.
That claim angered many of the former U.S. attorneys — who had received positive job reviews during their tenures — and helped provoke them to make politically damaging public statements about their experiences. Gonzales and others also maintained that McNulty inaccurately stated that the U.S. attorney in Little Rock was removed to make way for a former aide to presidential adviser Karl Rove, emails and other documents show.
The attacks on his veracity have been deeply troubling to McNulty, who prides himself on a reputation for honesty and candor, according to friends and colleagues.
“I think he’s a man of high integrity, and I think it has devastated him to get caught up in this,” said former career federal prosecutor Robert A. Spencer, who worked for McNulty in Alexandria and who prosecuted al-Qaeda operative Zacarias Moussaoui.
One Justice official and longtime McNulty colleague said the deputy attorney general has effectively been punished for telling the truth about the Arkansas firing and other matters. “He’s probably being maligned in the minds of some because he was honest, and that’s a shame,” said the official, who declined to speak on the record because of ongoing investigations of the firings.
McNulty tendered his resignation in May, citing the “financial realities” of more than two decades in public service, including 11 years as a staff lawyer in the House and nine years at the Justice Department. He did not have a job lined up at the time and is still interviewing with law firms, according to colleagues. Justice officials said he plans to leave the department in late August.
Many lawmakers from both parties believe that McNulty has been scapegoated by Gonzales and his inner circle.
Sen. Arlen Specter (R-Pa.), one of seven Republicans to vote for a no-confidence resolution on Gonzales this month, said that the deputy attorney general is a “sound guy” who does not bear the brunt of the blame for the mass firings and the fallout. “He’s been caught in the switches,” Specter said this week.
Senate Democrats have also lauded him. “Paul McNulty came clean with this committee and gave us some valuable information, while the attorney general stonewalled,” Sen. Charles E. Schumer (D-N.Y.) said last month. Washingtonpost.com staff writer Paul Kane and Washington Post staff researcher Julie Tate contributed to this report.