At first blush, the appointment of Paul McNulty to be Deputy Attorney General looks like another case of Bushigula’s Horse: a simple crony appointment. He’s a graduate of Grove City College, which from the description on its website seems to be a sort of upscale Bible college:
Rejecting relativism and secularism, it fosters intellectual, moral, spiritual, and social development consistent with a commitment to Christian truth, morals, and freedom. … Intellectual inquiry remains open to the questions religion raises and affirms the answers Christianity offers. The ethical absolutes of the Ten Commandments and Christ’s moral teachings guide the effort to develop intellect and character in the classroom, chapel, and cocurricular activities. And while many points of view are examined, the College unapologetically advocates preservation of America’s religious, political, and economic heritage of individual freedom and responsibility.
From college McNulty proceeded to the Capital University Law School, which is ABA-accredited but seems to have no further claim to fame. (When a law school brags on its webpage that it also offers paralegal training, that’s not a good sign.) If McNulty achieved any academic honors either in college or in law school, his official bio modestly omits them.
From law school McNulty went straight into politics as a Republican Hill staffer (House ethics committee). Two years out of law school, the Reagan Administration made him Director of Legal Services at the Legal Services Corporation, where no doubt he was in charge of making sure that poor people didn’t get any legal services. After two years of that, it was back to the Hill (House Judiciary committee). He held various bureaucratic jobs that don’t seem to have involved actually practicing law or supervising people practicing law, such as Deputy Director of the Office of Policy Development at DoJ then as DoJ’s Director and Chief Spokesman for the Office of Policy and Communications (i.e. chief flack). After two years “of counsel” to a Beltway law firm, McNulty came back to the Hill, where he made his bones in the Clinton impeachment struggle, and was then appointed to run the Justice Department transition group for the Bushies, which led to his appointment as U.S. Attorney for Eastern Virginia. It’s not clear from the bio whether he has ever actually appeared in court as a lawyer.
All in all, McNulty looks like a fairly standard-grade party hack. It’s not surprising that Bush, having failed so spectacularly in naming his crony Timothy Flanigan as Deputy AG, should want to put a loyalist into the Deputy’s job; with Gonzales presumably recused, the Deputy AG would wield the sole power the Department has maintained over Fitzgerald: the right to revoke his appointment as special counsel. In addition, there are lots of other cases, starting with the Abramoff mess, that need to be managed in a way that minimizes political damage.
But this economical theory fails to cover one salient fact: McNulty was the U.S. Attorney who prosecuted the Larry Franklin case, which not only set a precedent for the use of the Espionage Act that Fitzgerald may want to follow, but may intersect the Yellowcake Road insofar as both involve the nexus between the neo-con advocates of war with Iraq and the pro-Israeli lobby. (Josh Marshall has more on this.)
It’s easy to spin theories that do cover the facts: Maybe McNulty has in fact been working hard to minimize the damage to Bush from the Franklin affair, but has managed to conceal those efforts. (Who knows how high the scandal might have been pushed by an aggressive prosecutor?) Or maybe he did his best, but the pressure from the FBI was too strong to resist. If so, McNulty might still have been picked on the expectation that, as Deputy, he would keep the lid on things.
On the other hand, this may be another Miers nomination, not merely in terms of the apparently low quality of the nominee but as another political blunder that wouldn’t have been made if Karl Rove weren’t so distracted.
Whatever the explanation, unless someone can show that McNulty isn’t what he appears to be in terms of qualifications, the Democrats should fight the nomination on the competence issue. Even if he’s not being put in to obstruct justice, we don’t need a Deputy AG who can only do a helluva job.