DAG IV: McNulty Returns
Paul McNulty, take four.
Like most Hollywood sequels, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty's return to Capitol Hill today was not quite the blockbuster its producers (the House Judiciary Committee) had hoped it would be.
Appearing in the committee room he once ruled as a top staffer in the 1990s, McNulty spent more than two hours explaining how little he knew about the firings of nine U.S. attorneys last year.
Referred to as the "caboose" by one panel member, McNulty said that he never even spoke directly to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales about the pending mass firings until a Nov. 27, 2006 meeting at which the plan was finalized. "I was consulted in this process at the end of what we now know to be the process," he explained.
McNulty said he knew nothing of an order that placed much hiring and firing authority inside the attorney general's office, including a notation not to let the "DAG" see the order, until he saw a report on it in National Journal. "I still don't know to this day why that was the case," he said.
Other highlights from McNulty's testimony included:
â€¢ The revelation that an Oct. 4 phone call from Sen. Pete Domenicii (D-N.M.) complaining about David C. Iglesias, then U.S. attorney for New Mexico, played a key role in Iglesias's dismissal. While McNulty doesn't know how Iglesias got on the firing list, McNulty didn't object to the dismissal. "That (Domenici call) certainly was a factor in my mind when I saw the name on the list. And just as the attorney general said, it affected his judgment," he said.
â€¢ An admission that Daniel Bogden, former U.S. attorney for Nevada, lost his job, in part, because he was single. McNulty had raised objections about firing Bogden to Gonzales's chief of staff, D. Kyle Sampson, questioning the impact it would have on the family of a career prosecutor. "So when Kyle told me he was single, I think that just tipped the scale in my mind as saying, all right, I won't voice an objection and insist that he comes off the list. Do I regret that to this day? That still weighs heavy on my heart," McNulty told staff this spring, according to transcripts released today.
â€¢ Asked if a resignation by the attorney general would boost morale, McNulty responded: "I don't know how to gauge that. I think the morale at the department is generally good. I think people, again, love what they're doing and are fulfilling their responsibilities in a very excellent way."
Today's hearing will not have the fallout of the deputy attorney general's other appearances on Capitol Hill this year. On Feb. 6, McNulty essentially started the entire U.S. attorney scandal with his appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee. McNulty said then that seven prosecutors were dismissed for "performance" reasons.
The dismissed prosecutors were outraged and a month later six of them testified before the Judiciary committee to defend their professional reputations, with some accusing congressional Republicans of pressuring the administration because they wouldn't bring charges against Democrats -- or wouldn't do it before Election Day.
McNulty's Feb. 6 testimony also set off an internal civil war within the Justice Department and with the White House political affairs office over what he said about the eighth U.S. attorney: Bud Cummins of Little Rock. According to McNulty, Cummins was pushed out for political reasons so that Tim Griffin, a former deputy to senior presidential adviser Karl Rove, could be given a chance to run that prosecutor's office.
Dozens of e-mails and internal documents show that Gonzales was furious with McNulty for this admission, as was Sara M. Taylor, the White House political director, who said Griffin was "hung out" to dry by that admission.
Almost a week after the Feb. 6 testimony, McNulty appeared again before the Senate Judiciary Committee in a closed-door setting to discuss personnel records of the fired prosecutors. And then McNulty also did a private interview this spring with House and Senate Judiciary staff as part of their ongoing investigations into the firings, what McNulty today referred ruefully to his "daylong" interview.
Today's appearance, his fourth in less than five months on this issue, was prompted by the public testimony four weeks ago of Monica Goodling, former counsel to and White House liaison for Gonzales. She accused McNulty of not being "fully candid" with the Senate panel in his knowledge about White House involvement in the process and of leaving Goodling outside the Feb. 14 private briefing for senators out of fear that her appearance would raise questions about the political nature of the firings.
Democrats afterward accused McNulty of intentionally trying not to antagonize Goodling, who McNulty has previously blamed for misstatements he had made in his Feb. 6 Senate testimony. Today, McNulty said that he is not accusing Goodling or any other Justice official of "purposefully withholding that information".
"I had a very good relationship with her," McNulty said of Goodling.
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