Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has announced that he will resign late this summer. He is the most senior official to step down from the Justice Department in the ongoing scandal over fired U.S. attorneys.
McNulty did not mention the fired prosecutors in the letter announcing his resignation. He told the attorney general, "The financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career." The attorney general did not mention the U.S. attorneys story, either. In a written statement, Alberto Gonzales called McNulty "an outstanding public servant and a fine attorney" who is "both a colleague and a friend."
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 e-mail sent by Justice Department official Brian Roehrkasse the morning after McNulty testified on Capitol Hill. Roehrkasse wrote, "the Attorney General is extremely upset" and says Gonzales "thought some of the DAG's statements were inaccurate."
McNulty was the first to admit to Congress that one of the fired U.S. attorneys, Bud Cummins of Arkansas, was dismissed so that a man who used to work for White House political adviser Karl Rove could take the job. Prior to that testimony, the attorney general had insisted that all of the prosecutors were fired for performance-related reasons.
Sources say McNulty had already been planning to leave the Justice Department, but this scandal apparently accelerated his timeline.
On Capitol Hill, administration critics did not seem mollified by McNulty's resignation.
Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy of Vermont said he still intends to "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 has 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 [Senate Judiciary] committee, goes while Gonzales who stonewalled the committee is still in charge."
More reaction is likely to come out Tuesday, 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.