McNulty Ignored White House Guidance

ABC News:

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.”

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James Joyner
About James Joyner
James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm veteran. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. David L says:

    Paul McNulty needs to go. The president has to show Chuck Schumer that he, the president, runs the DOJ, and not Senator Schumer. The adminstratino can not gain control of the DOJ when staffers show more loyalty to Schumer than they do the either the AG the POTUS.

  2. Anderson says:

    So the “guidance” was to stonewall, and McNulty cracked?

    Interesting. As I remind my clients when they’re to be deposed, there’s a strange human instinct at work — when someone’s asking us questions, we very much want to answer them, whether we have to or not, whether we even know the answer or not.

  3. Stormy70 says:

    Libby taught everyone about the perils of testifying under oath in a partisan atmosphere. Thus, her lawyer referring to Libby in his letter advising Congress that she will plead the fifth.

  4. James Joyner says:

    If I understand Miers’ instructions, she was basically telling McNulty not to discuss “work product.” That strikes me as reasonable enough, regardless of whether such product is dubious.

    You’re almost certainly right on the instinct.

  5. Pete_Bondurant says:

    Yes, there is something going on….incredible stupidity. Yet again, the Republicans (and certain bloggers) get sucked into a non-scandal. It happened with Plame, it is happening again here. The president can fire any lawyer he chooses to for any reason…..that is it, case closed.

  6. I’m with Stormy on this. Libby teaches that you shut up, even when you have nothing to hide. Libby is looking at jail time not for his actions, but because he didn’t take the fifth.