Gonzales: Deputy Advised Attorney Firings

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales speaks at a news maker event, Tuesday, May 15, 2007, at the National Press Club in Washington. (AP Photo/Ron Edmonds) AP Photo/Ron Edmonds

Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he relied on his resigning deputy more than any other aide to decide which U.S. attorneys should be fired last year.

His comments come a less than a day after Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty announced he would resign at the end of the summer — a decision that people familiar with the plans said was hastened by the controversy over the purge of eight prosecutors.

Democratic opponents of the Bush administration say the firings were politically motivated and have called for the resignation of Gonzales, the top U.S. law enforcement official who heads the Justice Department.

President George W. Bush has steadfastly supported Gonzales, saying the firings were appropriate based on the attorneys' performance, but conceding that Gonzales and the Justice Department did a poor job of communicating to Congress how the changes in the federal prosecutor offices were handled.

"You have to remember, 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 at a National Press Club forum in Washington. "And he would know better than anyone else, anyone in this room, anyone — again, the deputy attorney general would know best about the qualifications and the experiences of the United States attorneys community, and he signed off on the names."

Gonzales also called McNulty's pending departure "a loss. ... I'm really going to miss him." But he said he relied on McNulty's views more than another other adviser, and said he was reassured by his deputy as recently as March that the firings all were justified.

"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.

The attorney general, who has long been a confidant and associate of George W. Bush, has apparently surmounted a wave of calls last month for his resignation in the wake of the flap over the firings of the federal prosecutors.

Republicans taking part in a House Judiciary Committee hearing last week defended him, saying that Democrats should back away in their continuing investigation of the firings. That contrasted sharply with calls from some Senate Republicans for Gonzales' resignation earlier this year.

McNulty was the third top Justice official to leave in recent months, reported CBS News correspondent Bob Orr. Gonzales' liaison to the White House, Monica Goodling, and his chief of staff, Kyle Sampson, have also resigned.

"It seems ironic that Paul McNulty, who at least tried to level with the committee, goes while Gonzales, who stonewalled the committee, is still in charge," said Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., a member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.

McNulty's resignation is expected to be the start of significant turnover at the department, particularly within the office he heads. Possible replacements for McNulty, according to several Justice officials, include Kevin O'Connor, the U.S. attorney in Connecticut, who also serves now as Gonzales' staff chief; Assistant Attorney General Kenneth Wainstein; and Susan Brooks, top prosecutor in Indiana, who is vice chair of the attorney general's advisory committee.
  • Stephen Smith

    Stephen Smith is a senior editor for CBSNews.com

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