- The Washington Times - Sunday, August 25, 2002

U.S. Attorney Paul J. McNulty doesn't work behind the scenes anymore as point man for presidents, senators and governors.
The prosecutor has a new mission in Alexandria a war against terrorists and it is fought out in the open in the federal courtrooms of Virginia's Eastern District. President Bush named Mr. McNulty as the top prosecutor there just three days after the September 11 attacks.
"I think the most important thing you can do when you're in a position of leadership is to identify what your priorities are, communicate them clearly to everybody and then push with initiatives to pursue those priorities," Mr. McNulty, 44, said last week in an interview with The Washington Times.
Mr. McNulty reflected on what it is like to emerge from the back rooms of politics to lead the charge to justice in such megacases as that of convicted spy and former FBI agent Robert Hanssen, "American Taliban" John Walker Lindh and now Zacarias Moussaoui, the accused September 11 conspirator.
"I had experienced nearly all of the challenges and opportunities that go with that behind-the-scenes staff part. I also had a chance in my last job to really see the life of the leadership level from a behind-the-scenes perspective," said Mr. McNulty, whom President Bush trusted to shepherd his nomination of Attorney General John Ashcroft as well as other Justice Department appointees.
With one of the most conservative jury pools of any federal court, the priorities at the U.S. District Court for the Eastern District of Virginia are rather clear: Convict surely and convict quickly.
It didn't earn the nickname "Rocket Docket" for nothing.
Since Mr. McNulty took hold of the prosecutorial reins, the court's reputation has only strengthened as one of the fastest places in America to try major felons. He soon became preoccupied with terror-related cases.
"It wasn't very long November that the Moussaoui case started to come together," Mr. McNulty said. "Right after that, it was only about five weeks until the Walker Lindh case came here."
Although being the man out in front may be new, Mr. McNulty is no stranger to media attention and high-pressure situations.
He was chief counsel and spokesman for Republicans on the House Judiciary Committee during the impeachment proceedings against President Clinton.
Before that, as chief counsel to the House subcommittee on crime, he was the behind the scenes, go-to-guy for Republicans during hearings on the FBI's controversial handling of the 1993 federal raid on the Branch Davidian compound near Waco, Texas.
Mr. McNulty, who lives with his wife and children in a Northern Virginia suburb, was born into a blue-collar family near Pittsburgh. As a boy he made a game out of learning to name all U.S. presidents in less than a minute. The room he shared with his brother was peppered with Civil War artifacts.
Fresh from Capital University School of Law in Columbus, Ohio, in 1983 he headed to Washington to begin a career that eventually landed him at the head of the Office of Policy and Communications at the Justice Department in the administration of the elder George Bush.
In the new Bush administration, Mr. McNulty was tapped to lead the Justice Department transition team. He became a channel through which everyone appointed to posts within the department had to pass.
When Mr. Bush chose Mr. Ashcroft to be his attorney general, Mr. McNulty quickly got the task of being the behind-the-scenes expert to advise Mr. Ashcroft on how to survive what would turn out to be an intensive Senate confirmation hearing.
With friends like these in high places, why did he choose to pursue a presidential appointment as U.S. attorney in Alexandria rather than a cushier posting at Justice Department headquarters?
"At the end of 2000, I was in my 40s, I had four kids and I had done just about everything there was I could do on Capitol Hill in terms of experience," Mr. McNulty said. "And I really was at the point where what I would do in the future would only be more of a repeat of what the past had been."
Chuckling to himself, Mr. McNulty added: "It's a young person's world on Capitol Hill. I was getting older, the members [of Congress] were starting to be my own age. Some were starting to get younger than me and that was interesting.
"I knew, at the risk of sounding immodest, that I had leadership abilities," he said, turning serious. "I knew I had gifts and abilities that lent themselves to directing people and building a team and setting a vision."
As U.S. attorney, Mr. McNulty's jurisdiction stretches south from Northern Virginia to Richmond and Norfolk.
Beyond creating programs to combat terrorism and prosecuting accused terrorists, he said, his other priorities include going after gun violence, drug trafficking, corporate fraud and nursing home abuses. And, he said, he wants to be the most effective leader possible.
"You have to go all out in building relationships," Mr. McNulty said. "You have got to go out and meet police chiefs and commonwealth attorneys in their offices to let them know that you're there as a partner, and that it's not just a matter of them coming to you, but your going to them."
Being a successful U.S. attorney also means understanding and respecting the role of the news media in the criminal justice system, Mr. McNulty said.
"The media plays a critical role," he said. "We have got to win the confidence of the public that the system is fair so that they continue to support the criminal-justice process.
"And we've got to deter the bad guys by making them know that we're there and we're coming. The only way that gets done is through the media."

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