McNulty Ignored White House Guidance
The firestorm over the fired U.S. attorneys was sparked last month when a top Justice Department official ignored guidance from the White House and rejected advice from senior administration lawyers over his testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee.
The official, Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, ignored White House Counsel Harriet Miers and senior lawyers in the Justice Department when he told the committee last month of specific reasons why the administration fired seven U.S. attorneys — and appeared to acknowledge for the first time that politics was behind one dismissal. McNulty’s testimony directly conflicted with the approach Miers advised, according to an unreleased internal White House e-mail described to ABC News. According to that e-mail, sources said, Miers said the administration should take the firm position that it would not comment on personnel issues.
Until McNulty’s testimony, administration officials had consistently refused to publicly say why specific attorneys were dismissed and insisted that the White House had complete authority to replace them. That was Attorney General Alberto Gonzales’ approach when he testified before the committee in January.
But McNulty, who worked on Capitol Hill 12 years, believed he had little choice but to more fully discuss the circumstances of the attorneys’ firings, according to a a senior Justice Department official familiar the circumstances. McNulty believed the senators would demand additional information, and he was confident he could draw on a long relationship with New York Sen. Chuck Schumer, a Democrat, in explaining in more detail, sources told ABC News.
In doing so, however, McNulty went well beyond the scope of what the White House cleared him to say when it approved his written testimony the week before the hearing, according to administration sources closely involved in the matter.
McNulty doesn’t work for the White House Counsel, who is a mere staffer. Still, if he had qualms about the guidance he was given, he should have taken it up with Attorney General Gonzales. While I’m no fan of Miers, her position that internal White House discussions about personnel matters is none of Congress’ business is probably correct.
Then again, taking the 5th, as Gonzales staffer Monica Goodling has, strikes me as problematic. Steven Taylor has a point: “For a case that is allegedly about nothing (according to some), it sure keeps providing more and more suggestions that there is, in fact, something going on.”