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Gonzales says he relied on his deputy on firings

Story Highlights

NEW: Attorney general said firings reflect views of his outgoing deputy
• Paul McNulty resigns, citing "personal reasons," including college costs for kids
• Resignation comes amid controversy over firing of eight U.S. attorneys
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WASHINGTON (CNN) -- Attorney General Alberto Gonzales said Tuesday he relied on his outgoing deputy to determine which federal prosecutors should be fired last year.

Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, the No. 2 official at the Justice Department, submitted his resignation to Gonzales on Monday, the department announced.

"The recommendations reflected the views of the deputy attorney general. He signed off on the names," Gonzales said while responding to questions at a forum on the Justice Department's Safer Communities Initiative.

"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 said.

Gonzales repeated his admission that he should have known more about the decision-making process that he placed in the hands of his then chief of staff Kyle Sampson, and again said as attorney general he accepts "full responsibility" for the decisions that were made.

Gonzales aides said he was not attempting to be critical of the Justice Department's departing No. 2 official.

However, one of the attorney general's strongest critics responded immediately to Gonzales' comments.

"I heard today that Attorney General Gonzales was trying to assign blame to Paul McNulty for the firings of U.S. attorneys, saying he relied on McNulty's advice," said Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York. "That's ironic because Paul McNulty came clean with this committee and gave us some valuable information while the attorney general stonewalled."

McNulty had testified before Congress that he was not involved in the selection of the U.S. attorneys to be fired, but approved the list once it was presented to him.

McNulty told U.S. attorneys at a conference in San Antonio that he would be leaving his post for personal financial reasons this summer.

In his resignation letter, McNulty wrote:

"The financial realities of college-age children and two decades of public service lead me to a long overdue transition in my career," he wrote in his resignation letter. (McNulty's resignation letterexternal link)

A source close to McNulty told CNN that the deputy attorney general had planned to resign from the $165,000-a-year job about a month ago, but decided to announce the move at a conference of U.S. attorneys in Texas.

McNulty's resignation comes amid the controversy over the department's firing of eight U.S. attorneys last year.

He was one of the key figures in meetings and discussions about the shake-up, and investigators from the House and Senate Judiciary committees grilled him for more than eight hours in April.

McNulty, a former U.S. attorney himself, told the Senate Judiciary Committee in February that the firings were performance-related. That provoked an outcry from the ex-officials, some of whom raised allegations that some of the firings were politically motivated.

McNulty later told the committee that he was not briefed properly before that hearing -- and blamed his testimony on former aide Monica Goodling, who invoked her Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination rather than discuss the matter with Congress. A federal judge Friday approved a House Judiciary Committee request that she be granted immunity from prosecution, allowing it to compel her testimony.

Goodling and another aide, Kyle Sampson, have resigned in connection with the controversy.

"Another resignation won't make the unanswered questions about the fired U.S. attorneys disappear," Rep. Rahm Emanuel, the chairman of the House Democratic Caucus, said Monday.

"For months, Democrats have been seeking straight answers about the prosecutor purge," Emanuel said. "Democrats will continue our aggressive investigation into this serious matter. Resignations are no substitute for the truth."

Gonzales has admitted the firings were poorly handled, but has defended his leadership and resisted calls to resign.

"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," Schumer said in a written statement Monday evening. "This administration owes us a lot better."

McNulty served as U.S. attorney in Alexandria, Virginia, before becoming deputy attorney general on an acting basis in November 2005. He was officially sworn in the following March.

He also led the Justice Department's Office of Policy and Communications from 1990 to 1993, during the first Bush administration.

His resignation will take effect at an unspecified date in late summer.


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Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty submitted his resignation to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales on Monday.

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