Now that the number-two official at the Justice Department has resigned, the question many in Washington are asking is: Will soon-to-be-former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty be DOJ’s fall guy — or its worst nightmare?
As is so often the case when someone gets the ax in Washington, the official explanation for McNulty’s departure was personal. In his one-page letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, the deputy AG wrote that he will be leaving in late summer because of the “financial realities” of trying to provide for college-age children on a government salary. McNulty, 49, has worked nearly half his life either on Capitol Hill or in the executive branch.
But no one is taking that to be the real reason. Since McNulty’s congressional testimony in February that the White House was involved in the firing of at least one of the nine U.S. attorneys who were forced to resign last year, the tension between his office and Gonzales’s has divided and crippled the department.
“There’s a war going on between the DAG’s office and the AG’s office,” says one senior Justice official.”The thing that’s 100% clear is that there’s really no leadership. Both the DAG and the AG are so compromised, there’s no one running the department. There’s a lot of antagonism between those two groups. The DAG is throwing [Gonzales and his team] under the bus.”
The Administration had hoped that McNulty’s testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee would tamp down what it then considered a minor controversy.
Instead, it helped fuel it into a major one. Subsequent accounts and documents released by the Administration confirmed that the White House had been involved in the dismissals, and far more extensively than McNulty indicated. Meanwhile, his contention that most of the firings had been “performance related” outraged many of the dismissed U.S. attorneys, who had been silent until then. It turned out most had been good performers.
McNulty has since blamed the discrepancy on inadequate briefing by Gonzales’s then Chief of Staff Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling, who was the Department’s White House liaison. Both have resigned amid the spreading scandal.