Gonzales: Departing aide played lead role in firings

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday that departing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty was primarily responsible for recommending the firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year, saying that McNulty's personal knowledge of the prosecutors and his role as manager of the department set his advice apart from other senior officials who participated in the process.

"At the end of the day, the recommendation reflected the views of the deputy attorney general," Gonzales said during an appearance at the National Press Club. "He signed off on the names, and he would know better than anyone else ... about the qualifications and experiences of the United States attorney community."

While offering warm words of praise as McNulty prepares to leave his position -- he announced his resignation Monday, citing personal reasons -- Gonzales said he had structured the department so that McNulty acted as the chief operating officer. He added that McNulty was "a former colleague of all of these United States attorneys" who knew them well.

"The one person that I would care about would be the views of the deputy attorney general, because the deputy attorney general is the direct supervisor of the United States attorneys," Gonzales said.

As he has previously, Gonzales acknowledged that he should have been more involved. Pressed repeatedly on why he was not, Gonzales spoke of the busy nature of his job. But he said that if he had to do it again, he might have put McNulty in charge of the process instead of his former chief of staff, Kyle Sampson.

He said he also would have truncated the process, specified with whom Sampson should consult, issued clear guidelines about factors that should be considered, and directed Sampson to meet face-to-face with the attorneys and get their reactions to criticisms.

Gonzales also indicated that while Sampson and former White House liaison Monica Goodling played key roles in the process of determining who would be fired, he did not consider them "top aides."

Even as officials leave the department in the wake of the scandal, Gonzales brushed aside a question about whether he should resign, saying this was a decision for the president to make. Though several of the fired U.S. attorneys were targets of complaints that they were not pursuing voter fraud cases aggressively enough, Gonzales said he was aware of no "concentrated effort" by the White House to promote voter fraud prosecutions.

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