During an event this morning at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., Attorney General Alberto Gonzales launched an unabashed and shameless finger-pointing campaign at outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, blaming him for the U.S. attorney scandal.
Minimizing his own role, Gonzales said McNulty has “most of the operational authority and decisions” at the Department of Justice.
Despite having delegated the task of putting together the list of fired U.S. attorneys to his chief of staff Kyle Sampson, Gonzales claimed that “the one person I would care about would be the views of the Deputy Attorney General. … At end of the day, my understanding was that Mr. Sampson’s recommendations reflected the consensus view of the senior leadership of the Department — in particular the Deputy Attorney General.”
When asked why two inexperienced staffers — Sampson and Monica Goodling — were given prominent roles in the firing process, Gonzales responded, “Well again you have to remember at the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the Deputy Attorney General. He signed off on the names and he would know better than anyone else.”
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McNulty was “largely left out of the loop when Gonzales” in early 2005 ordered his chief of staff to identify top prosecutors for dismissal. McNulty has said he was not aware of the plans until last fall, “two months before the firings were executed.” McNulty told one fired attorney that he’d had only “limited input” in the firing process, but he did attend at least one meeting with Karl Rove to discuss the firings.
McNulty may soon have an opportunity to present a high-profile rebuttal to Gonzales. House Judiciary Committee John Conyers has said, “As we press on with our investigation, we look forward to [McNulty's] cooperation.”
UPDATE: Andrew Cohen writes that McNulty is not blameless. He “knew or should have known that the White House-inspired plan to politicize the Justice Department was wrong… [and] should have stood up for the independence and authority of the prosecutors who were fired.”
GONZALES: The Deputy Attorney General has a unique position at the DOJ. Most of the operational authority and decisions are made by the Deputy Attorney General. He is the chief operating officer — that’s the way I’ve structured the Department. And so he occupies a very central place in the work of the Department.
GONZALES: Mr. Sampson provided the recommendations. The one person I would care about would be the views of the Deputy Attorney General because the Deputy Attorney General as a direct supervisor of the United States Attorneys and in this particular case Mr. McNulty was a former colleague of all of these United States Attorneys and so he would probably know better than anyone else about the performance and qualifications of our United States Attorney community. So at the end of the day my understanding was that Mr. Sampson’s recommendations reflected the consensus view of the senior leadership of the Department — in particular the Deputy Attorney General. And the day of Mr. Sampson’s testimony, I had a conversation with the deputy as I testified where I went back to the Deputy Attorney General and I asked Paul did he still stand by the recommendations and he said yes. And so — for me that is the most important — his views would be the most important.
QUESTION: It seems clear that two relatively inexperienced Justice Department appointees Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling were intimately involved in these personnel issues. Why were such that young and unexperienced people put in charge of such matters?
GONZALES: Well again you have to remember at the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the Deputy Attorney General. He signed off on the names and he would know better than anyone else, anyone else in this room. Again, the Deputy Attorney General would know best about the qualifications and experiences of the minds it’s a community and he signed off on the names.