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McNulty Was ‘Cut Out Of The Loop,’ Learned About Controversial Memo From Press

By Matt Corley  

"McNulty Was ‘Cut Out Of The Loop,’ Learned About Controversial Memo From Press"

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On March 1, 2006, Attorney General Alberto Gonzales signed “a highly confidential order” delegating extraordinary new powers to his then-chief of staff Kyle Sampson, and his then-White House liaison Monica Goodling. The memo, first revealed by Murray Waas in the National Journal, gave Sampson and Goodling power to hire and fire most non-civil-service employees at the Justice Department.

Asked about the order in his testimony before the House Judiciary Committee today, former Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who resigned in May, said that he only became aware of it after it was reported in the press.

“I became familiar when there was a story on the subject in the National Journal,” said McNulty. “In the past month or so.”

Rep. Hank Johnson (D-GA) then asked if he was “surprised” when he “first learned” that his authority to hire and fire within his own office “had been taken away” from him “and given to a couple of inexperienced political appointees.” McNulty said he was “struck” by the move.

MCNULTY: What struck me was the guidance on the control sheet, if you will, that said ‘this is to not be circulated through the office of the Deputy Attorney General.’ And I still don’t know to this day why that was the case.

JOHNSON: Were you disturbed because you were cut out of the loop, as the chairman indicated?

MCNULTY: Well, that definitely was a concern to me when I saw that. And I’ve heard Ms. Goodling’s explanation of it, I didn’t quite understand it. And I’m still not clear as to her position on that subject. What I understood it to be, it looked like it was something that wasn’t going through the Deputy’s office for recommendation to the Attorney General, as most of our documents do. I can’t say much more about it than that.

Watch it:

[flv http://video.thinkprogress.org/2007/06/McNultySecretMemo.320.240.flv]

Despite the evidence that McNulty was purposefully “cut out of the loop,” Attorney General Alberto Gonzales has tried to throw him under the bus, claiming that McNulty had “most of the operational authority and decisions” at the Department of Justice.

Transcript:

REP. HANK JOHNSON: I’d like to ask you some questions about the March 1, 2006 Attorney General’s delegation order entitled “Delegation of certain personnel authorities to the chief of staff to the Attorney General and the White House liason of the Department of Justice.” The order delegated to Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling the authority to “to take final action in matters pertaining to the appointment, employment, pay, separation, and general administration of” various employees, including by the way employees in the offices of the Deputy Attorney General. Are you familiar with that order?

PAUL MCNULTY: I am now, yes.

JOHNSON: And when did you first become aware of that order, sir?

MCNULTY: The best I can recall is, I became familiar when there was a story on the subject in the National Journal, I believe.

JOHNSON: What date would that have been, approximately?

MCNULTY: In the past month or so.

JOHNSON: So you were unaware of that.

MCNULTY: Well, that’s my best memory. I wasn’t…I just can’t remember any time seeing it or having some connection to it.

JOHNSON: Had you seen the order before?

MCNULTY: Before that story?

JOHNSON: Yes.

MCNULTY: Again I don’t have any recollection of that.

JOHNSON: Did you understand that Kyle Sampson and Monica Goodling ever had authority to make hiring and firing decisions in your office?

MCNULTY: Well, that’s what I’ve come to understand.

JOHNSON: And you only came to that understanding after having read that article?

MCNULTY: No, as a practical matter, I knew that with regard to how the office operated, but the order itself.

JOHNSON: But it wasn’t the way the office operated when you were first sworn in as deputy attorney general, isn’t that correct? That’s not how the office was conducted then…hiring and firing decisions out of your office. Correct?

MCNULTY: Well, it’s a difficult subject.

JOHNSON: Is that correct or is that incorrect?

MCNULTY: It’s hard for me to say yes or no to, because I have to recall just exactly what was occuring at the time.

JOHNSON: Well, let me ask you this question. Let me put it like this. When it came down to hiring your chief of staff, you did that yourself when you were first employed as deputy attorney general, correct?

MCNULTY: Not necessarily.

JOHNSON: Well there was no liason, White House Liason to the Justice Department involved in your decison to hire your chief of staff, Mr. Elston. Was it?

MCNULTY: I’m sorry to make this difficult.

JOHNSON: Is that true or is that false?

MCNULTY: I can’t say it’s true or it’s false. It doesn’t fit that way. If a person’s being hired into a poltical position, then there’s a process.

JOHNSON: Ok, well let me stop you, I don’t want to run out of time. What is your understanding of the purpose of that delegation order that you just learned about, you say about a month or so ago, in a magazine article. What was the purpose of that order?

MCNULTY: My understanding of that order is to delegate to the attorney general’s chief of staff and the white house liason the responsibility for making hiring decisions in the leadership offices at the Department.

JOHNSON: You never had an opportuntiy to understand why that order was entered?

MCNULTY: I don’t have any memory of knowing about that order being developed or being executed. It just doesn’t come to my mind.

JOHNSON: Did it suprise you back in March when you first learned about it that your authority to hire and fire within your own office had been taken away from you and given to a couple of inexperienced political appointees?

MCNULTY: What struck me was the guidance on the control sheet, if you will, that said ‘this is to not be circulated through the office of the Deputy Attorney General.’ And I still don’t know to this day why that was the case.

JOHNSON: Were you disturbed because you were cut out of the loop, as the chairman indicated?

MCNULTY: Well that definitely was a concern to me when I saw that. And I’ve heard Ms. Goodling’s explanation of it, I didn’t quite understand it. And I’m still not clear as to her position on that subject. What I understood it to be, it looked like it was something that wasn’t going through the Deputy’s office for recommendation to the Attorney General, as most of our documents do. I can’t say much more about it than that.

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