Monday, May 14, 2007

Justice Department's No. 2 official to resign (USA TODAY)

By Donna Leinwand and Kevin Johnson

WASHINGTON - Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, embroiled in the controversy over the dismissals of eight U.S. attorneys, will resign at the end of the summer, the Justice Department announced Monday.

McNulty is the highest-ranking Justice Department official to leave since the issue over the firings erupted earlier this year. McNulty's testimony in February ignited the firestorm that has led to calls in Congress for Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to resign.

In a letter to Gonzales, McNulty said, "The financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career."

McNulty testified before Congress on Feb. 6 that seven of the eight U.S. attorneys had been fired for performance, not politics. He admitted that one of the targeted prosecutors, Arkansas U.S. Attorney Bud Cummins, had been asked to leave so a Republican protégé of White House political adviser Karl Rove could have the job.

In March, however, Gonzales told lawmakers that McNulty had given Congress incomplete information. The Justice Department has said McNulty had not been fully briefed by senior aides about the dismissals. Gonzales maintains that the dismissals were related to performance and management issues.

Gonzales' chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, resigned March 12. Michael Battle, director of the executive office of U.S. Attorneys who had carried out the dismissals, resigned March 16. Battle has denied that his resignation had any link to the controversy.

Monica Goodling, the department's liaison to the White House, resigned April 6 and refused to testify before Congress, citing Fifth Amendment protections against self-incrimination. Last week, a federal judge approved an arrangement in which Goodling would be granted immunity from prosecution in exchange for her testimony to Congress. She also is under investigation by the Justice Department's inspector general for improperly considering political affiliations when hiring attorneys.

Gonzales and other Justice Department officials have repeatedly appeared before Congress to answer questions about whether the eight U.S. attorneys were dismissed for failing to carry out a Republican political agenda.

"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," said Senate Judiciary Chairman Charles Schumer, D-N.Y. "This administration owes us a lot better."

Cummins, one of the eight targeted prosecutors, said Monday that he wished McNulty well. "I bear him no ill will," Cummins said. "It all amounts to disappointment."

McNulty has served as Gonzales' deputy since November 2005. Gonzales in a statement Monday called McNulty an "effective manager of day-to-day operations" and the "principal driver of the department's policies and efforts to prevent corporate fraud."

McNulty also had served as a U.S. attorney and prosecuted high-profile terrorism cases, including Zacarias Moussaoui's, who had conspired with the 9/11 hijackers.

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