WASHINGTON—The No. 2 Justice Department official who came under fire for his testimony to Congress about the firings of eight U.S. attorneys announced his resignation on Monday.
Paul J. McNulty, the deputy attorney general since March 2006, said in his resignation letter to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales that he would step down on a date to be determined in late summer.
McNulty is the fourth Justice Department official to resign amid the controversy over eight ousted U.S. attorneys who'd fallen out of favor with the Bush administration. Gonzales' chief of staff, a top aide and the head of the office that oversees federal prosecutors also have stepped down.
When asked whether McNulty had resigned in connection with the firings, Justice Department spokesman Dean Boyd responded: "The resignation letter speaks for itself." He declined further comment.
In his letter, McNulty said his decision was sparked by the "financial realities of college-age children," although he didn't say whether he'd accepted another job.
Several leading Democrats, however, said they believed McNulty's resignation was linked to the congressional investigation into the firings.
"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 Schumer, D-N.Y., a leader of the Senate's inquiry.
Gonzales praised McNulty as an "effective manager of day-to-day operations."
"The Department of Justice will be losing a dynamic and thoughtful leader," Gonzales said. "He will be missed."
McNulty is one of several officials who've come under scrutiny as the administration's explanation to Congress about the firings shifted and some officials—including Gonzales—contradicted themselves.
In testimony before the Senate Judiciary Committee in February, McNulty said that the firings of most of the prosecutors were "performance-related."
At the time, he acknowledged that Bud Cummins, the former U.S. attorney in Little Rock, Ark., wasn't asked to step aside for performance reasons, but to make way for a former aide to presidential political adviser Karl Rove.
McClatchy Newspapers subsequently reported that most of the fired prosecutors had received positive performance evaluations. Several of them also began questioning whether their handling of voter-fraud allegations against Democrats or failure to pursue partisan public corruption cases may have led to their terminations.
McNulty denied the allegation, saying, "When I hear you talk about the politicizing of the Department of Justice, it's like a knife in my heart."
Still, Gonzales has been forced to fight for his job after acknowledging that he and other Justice Department officials mischaracterized the ousters. Gonzales recently amended his explanation by saying the prosecutors were fired for various reasons, including policy differences. He denied that politics was ever a motive.
Although e-mails and documents released to Congress have revealed that McNulty was involved in some decision-making leading up to the December 2006 firings, he wasn't in Washington when the administration first floated the plan in 2005.
McClatchy Newspapers reported that McNulty told congressional investigators in closed-door testimony that he had attended a White House meeting with Rove and other officials the day before his deputy was to testify before Congress about the firings. The White House officials told the assembled Justice Department officials that they needed to agree on clear reasons why each prosecutor was fired and how to explain them to Congress.
McNulty said the White House officials didn't disclose their more extensive role in the firings, which Gonzales' former aide later revealed to him.