As Sampson Speaks, McNulty Vows to Stay On

Posted March 28, 2007 at 6:51pm

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty has no plans to resign — and nobody on Capitol Hill is calling for his head — even though his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in early February largely sparked the U.S. attorneys scandal.

“Nobody’s asked me to resign and I’ve been busy doing my job in the midst of all of this,” McNulty said in an interview.

In his testimony, McNulty’s claim that the firing of federal prosecutors was “performance related” was assailed by Democratic Senators and contradicted by e-mails between the Justice Department and the White House that suggested the reason for the firings was political.

Kyle Sampson, former chief of staff to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, did resign as the controversy began to explode, and he will testify today before the Senate Judiciary Committee.

Sampson will testify that the prosecutors were fired for inadequately pursuing President Bush’s priorities, the Associated Press reported after reviewing his prepared remarks. Sampson said “the distinction between ‘political’ and ‘performance -related’ reasons for removing a U.S. attorney is, in my view, largely artificial.”

Sampson also will reject the idea that the prosecutors were fired either for pursuing Republicans too aggressively or for being too restrained in pursuing Democrats.

“To my knowledge, nothing of the sort occurred here,” Sampson says in his testimony.

Meanwhile, the lack of public criticism of McNulty on Capitol Hill may be the result of his long ties to Congress and his good relationship with Sen. Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.).

“I go back a long way with Mr. McNulty,” Schumer said this week.

Nonetheless, both Schumer and Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) said they would not hesitate to call McNulty back to the Hill if necessary.

“It may be necessary to have him testify again,” Leahy said.

Added Schumer: “You can’t rule anybody out. It’s certainly possible that McNulty would come back either in a private hearing or in public.”

Furthermore, the House Judiciary Committee has yet to hear from McNulty but is still pursuing his testimony, according to Jim Dau, a spokesman for Rep. Linda Sánchez (D-Calif.), the head of the Judiciary subcommittee on commercial and administrative law.

In Feb. 6 testimony, McNulty explained that seven of the eight fired U.S. attorneys were let go for “performance based” reasons. He also admitted that Bud Cummins III, the U.S. attorney for eastern Arkansas, was dismissed to make room for a former aide to Karl Rove.

But after the e-mails were released, Schumer said McNulty called him and told him that he was sorry for misleading the committee.

“I was not told these things were happening by the people who were supposed to brief me,” Schumer, in a March 18 “Meet the Press” interview, quoted McNulty as saying.

One of those people allegedly is Sampson, who resigned after the e-mails became public. Gonzales pointed to Sampson as not having divulged all the details about the plan to fire the prosecutors.

Sampson is slated to testify as a voluntary witness before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. But Schumer and Leahy, who have reviewed his testimony, cautioned not to expect any dramatic announcements.

“The purpose of [today’s] hearing is not to find the smoking gun,” Schumer said. “The purpose is not gotcha.”

Those familiar with McNulty’s thinking say, however, that he does not assume he was misled by Sampson.

But even Gonzales was angry about McNulty’s testimony, according to the internal Justice Department e-mails turned over to Congress.

“The attorney general is extremely upset with the stories on the US attorneys this morning,” wrote Justice Department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse in an e-mail to Sampson and Tasia Scolinos, the head of the Justice Department public affairs division.

“He also thought some of [McNulty’s] statements were inaccurate.”

Gonzales then wrote an opinion piece in USA Today defining “performance related” to mean “reasons related to policies, priorities and management.”

That piece made some Senators even angrier. And the idea they were dismissed for “performance related” reasons helped prompt the dismissed U.S. attorneys to speak out, some of them accusing lawmakers and the administration of improper political pressure.

Yet McNulty’s reputation has remained relatively clean in all of the stink, at least so far. That could be in large measure because of his 12 years on Capitol Hill.

McNulty served from 1983 to 1985 as counsel for the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, and later for eight years as counsel to the House Judiciary Committee — where he got to know former House Member Schumer — including during the House impeachment proceedings. He was chief counsel for then-House Majority Leader Dick Armey (R-Texas) from 1999 to 2001.

House leaders also brought their complaints about the raid of Rep. William Jefferson’s (D-La.) office to McNulty last spring.