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The scandal at the Justice Department has claimed a top official, and it could not bring down any higher official unless it was Alberto Gonzales himself. The attorney general's deputy, Paul McNulty, has announced that he will resign late this summer. It is the latest departure amid a scandal over the firing of U.S. attorneys, though that is not the official reason, as NPR's Ari Shapiro reports.
ARI SHAPIRO: McNulty did not mention the fired prosecutors in his resignation letter. He told Attorney General Alberto Gonzales his decision was motivated by, quote, "the financial realities of college-age children." The attorney general didn't mention the scandal, either. In a written statement, Gonzales called McNulty an outstanding public servant and a fine attorney.
But in the last few months, there has been evidence of tension between the attorney general and his deputy. Justice Department documents related to the U.S. attorney dismissals included an email sent the morning after McNulty testified on Capitol Hill about the dismissals. Part of the document said, the attorney general is extremely upset. The email said Gonzales, quote, "thought some of the deputy attorney general's statements were inaccurate."
McNulty was the first to admit to Congress that one of the U.S. attorneys was dismissed so a man who used to work for White House political adviser Karl Rove could take the job. Before that testimony, the attorney general had insisted that all of the prosecutors were fired for performance related reasons.
On Capitol Hill, administration critics did not seemed mollified by McNulty's resignation. In a written statement, Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont said he still intends to, quote, "get to the truth about the role the White House played in the replacement of United States attorneys for political purposes."
New York Democrat Charles Schumer, who's been leading the U.S. attorneys investigation and who is friendly with McNulty, 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.
More reaction is likely to come out today when the Senate Judiciary Committee hears from a former deputy attorney general. James Comey served as the Justice Department's second in command during President Bush's first term. He'll be on Capitol Hill to tell senators what he knows about the U.S. attorney dismissals.
McNulty is the third senior Justice official to resign in the U.S. attorneys scandal. The other two were advisers to the attorney general - Kyle Sampson was his chief of staff and Monica Goodling was senior counsel and White House liaison. Sources say McNulty had already been planning to leave the Justice Department, but this scandal apparently accelerated his timeline.
Despite calls from both parties for the attorney general to resign, Gonzales has said he has no intention of leaving and the White House says he still has President Bush's support. In the last few weeks, there were rumors in Washington that if Gonzales did not step down, at least one other senior justice official would. Now that has apparently come to pass.
Ari Shapiro, NPR News, Washington.
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