Gonzales: Deputy Was Pointman on Firings

The Associated Press
Tuesday, May 15, 2007; 10:24 PM

WASHINGTON -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he relied heavily on his deputy to oversee the firings of U.S. attorneys, appearing to distance himself from his departing second-in-command.

Gonzales' comments came the day after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty said he would step down by the end of summer, a decision that people familiar with his plans said was hastened by the controversy over last year's firings of eight prosecutors.

"At the end of the day, the recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He signed off on the names," Gonzales told reporters after a speech about Justice Department steps to curb rising violent crime.

"The one person 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.

McNulty, reached in San Antonio after Gonzales' remarks, declined to respond.

Gonzales has said he most valued McNulty's opinions about firing the prosecutors, now under investigation by Congress to determine if they were politically motivated. But his remarks Tuesday, on the heels of McNulty's resignation, underscored weeks of strain between the two men and their staffs. It also raised questions of whether McNulty's resignation also was ordered, despite his insistence that it was his own decision to step down.

Gonzales, a longtime friend and adviser to President Bush, has so far survived calls for his own resignation. "At the end of the day, that really is a question for the president of the United States," the attorney general said anew Tuesday. "He gets to make that call."

On Capitol Hill, lawmakers from both parties defended McNulty and rapped Gonzales' leadership of the Justice Department.

Sen. Arlen Specter, top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, called McNulty a "professional" and then added: "It's embarrassing for a professional to work for the Department of Justice today."

"It is hard to see how the Department of Justice can function and perform its important duties with Mr. Gonzales remaining where he is," said Specter, R-Pa.

House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers, D-Mich., questioned whether McNulty was being made to take the blame for the department's botched handling of the firings.

"With this Justice Department, the buck always stops somewhere else, and the fall guy is always the last guy out of the door," said Conyers.

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