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Democrats unsatisfied with answers on firings

- The Washington Times - Friday, June 22, 2007

THE WASHINGTON TIMES Democrats yesterday accused Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty of giving dishonest answers during a congressional hearing on the U.S. attorney firings, and said they will press forward in trying to find out the extent of White House involvement in the firings.

"That was not a fully candid discussion that we had," House Judiciary Committee Chairman John Conyers Jr., Michigan Democrat, said after a nearly three-hour hearing with Mr. McNulty.

Mr. Conyers said he and Senate Democrats are considering filing contempt of Congress citations against two former White House officials who have been subpoenaed to testify, and against White House Chief of Staff Joshua B. Bolten, who has been subpoenaed to provide documents.

The White House has refused Democrats' summons, and has offered private meetings with current and former administration officials but without transcription a proposal Democrats have rebuffed, setting up a showdown in the courts if no compromise is reached.

Mr. McNulty, who announced last month that he will resign this summer, was asked about charges from former Justice Department official Monica Goodling that he did not tell the Senate Judiciary Committee on Feb. 6 all he knew about White House input on the firings.

Miss Goodling, who resigned from the Justice Department in April and testified only after she was granted immunity, told the committee last month that Mr. McNulty was "not fully candid about his knowledge of White House involvement in the replacement decision."

Mr. McNulty told the committee yesterday that he testified truthfully in February, and that more information detailing White House involvement has since been revealed in documents released by the Justice Department.

"My testimony was dead-on accurate to what I knew at the time, that the White House had approved the names at the time," Mr. McNulty said.

Mr. McNulty gave a broad answer in February that indicated he had no personal knowledge of White House involvement. Released e-mail exchanges have shown that several White House officials were consulted about the firings over the course of the yearlong process, and that Mr. Bush and his adviser Karl Rove both passed on complaints about specific U.S. attorneys to Mr. Gonzales.

None of this activity would be illegal or improper unless a prosecutor was removed to block further progress in a corruption investigation, or because a prosecutor refused to engage in politically motivated prosecutions. No evidence of such activity has surfaced in the hearings and interviews in the past five months.

Mr. McNulty also denied that he had accused Miss Goodling of withholding information from him during a conversation with Sen. Charles E. Schumer, New York Democrat.

"I didn't accuse anybody of purposely withholding information," Mr. McNulty said.

Mr. McNulty said he did not know the extent of White House involvement in February because he was not involved in deciding which attorneys were to be fired until the end of the yearlong process.

He said he stopped Miss Goodling, a White House liaison at the Justice Department, from attending a Feb. 14 meeting with Senate staffers because he thought her presence would make the firings appear politically motivated, when he thought them to be performance-related. Miss Goodling has admitted she improperly screened job applicants at the Justice Department for their political beliefs.

Mr. Conyers said after the hearing that he did not believe Mr. McNulty's answers.

"He says he was out of the loop. It looks like he was," Mr. Conyers said. "It's very hard to accept that for all this period of time he didn't know anything, he didn't hear anything."

Rep. Linda T. Sanchez, California Democrat, said Mr. McNulty "did a good job of being evasive."

Rep. Chris Cannon, Utah Republican, said Mr. McNulty answered questions thoroughly and "left the Democrats with nothing."