“Anyone who doubts that [former Sen.] Fred [Thompson] isn’t the real deal needs to look at his performance on Sunday and rethink things,” says a senior Republican National Committee official. “You can’t watch him or read the transcript and wonder what the dynamic would be like with him in the race.”
He’s referring to Thompson’s appearance on Fox News Sunday, where, unlike candidates like Gov. Mitt Romney and Sen. John McCain, Thompson has no problem addressing where he stood on issues from abortion, gun control, and campaign finance reform.
“It isn’t just Fred,” says the RNC official. “You see and hear [former Gov.] Jeb [Bush] and you realize what the GOP field is missing. You see those two guys and you want to vote for them. With most of the guys in the race now you just feel like eventually you’re going to have to vote for them simply out of party loyalty.”
Thompson has no campaign staff in place and is not seeking support from his former colleagues in the Senate, despite published rumors that former Sen. Howard Baker was on Capitol Hill last week seeking support for him. “Thompson wouldn’t do that to McCain and [Sam] Brownback and other former colleagues,” says a Republican Senate leadership aide. “My understanding is that some members asked Baker about what he thought Thompson was doing, and Baker answered honestly: he didn’t know. Baker was not pushing Thompson up here.”
ALBERTO IN TROUBLE
“One day there will be a new attorney general, maybe sooner rather than later,” Sen. Arlen Specter told reporters last week, in referring to Attorney General Alberto Gonzales. Word out of Specter’s office is that in the wake of the “Slaughter of the Gonzalez Eight,” those U.S. Attorneys recently forced out, and the internal report of FBI errors under the USA Patriot Act, the senator is quietly seeking support from his Republican and Democrat colleagues to call for Gonzales’s resignation.
That push has already begun. On Sunday, New York Sen. Chuck Schumer called for Gonzales to resign.
We’re hearing that Republicans and Democrats on Capitol Hill are also looking at Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, who has been strangely silent on a number of issues of late. McNulty, who previously served as U.S. Attorney for the eastern district of Virginia and in the Department of Justice during first President George H.W. Bush’s administration, is believed by many to have played a key role in the forced resignation of the U.S. Attorneys.
McNulty further fanned the flames of outrage among conservatives by insisting that many of those pushed out the door at DOJ were removed for cause, namely, poor management evaluations.
“It’s becoming increasingly apparent that the long knives that took out those U.S. Attorneys were coming from McNulty’s office,” says a Senate leadership staffer, who points to recent revelations that the DAG’s chief of staff, Michael Elston, made what some in Washington interpreted to be threatening or intimidating phone calls to the outgoing USAs. Elston has denied that those types of calls were made.
“McNulty doesn’t know when to keep his mouth shut and his head down,” says a Republican staffer on the Senate Judiciary Committee. “The amount of harm he has done to his own reputation by impugning the reputations of others is remarkable.”
McNulty has made no secret within his circle of political allies that he has larger ambitions than being Gonzales’s deputy.
“If I had to guess, he views himself as the logical replacement for Gonzales should he be forced out,” says an acquaintance who says he’s familiar with McNulty’s thinking. “You have Schumer calling for Gonzales to resign, and who’s close to Schumer? Former DAG Jim Comey and [special prosecutor and U.S. Attorney] Pat Fitzgerald. Both of them are close to McNulty, and if you look at who got pushed out, they’re USAs who weren’t part of the Comey/Fitzgerald/McNulty crowd.”
McNulty is also thought to be interested in running for elective office in Virginia, where he would run as a law and order Republican. “But being associated with this debacle at DOJ isn’t going to help him one bit,” says the Senate leadership aide. “Some people thought Attorney General [John] Ashcroft was a problem. I don’t think there is a single Republican in Washington who isn’t wishing that Ashcroft and his people weren’t back there now. This never would have happened on their watch.”
Rep. Henry Waxman, according to House Oversight Committee sources, has asked investigators on his staff to look into the USA firings, the role of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys and the office the Deputy Attorney General, and for ways to tie personnel in those offices to other potential investigations they have been examining since 2004, including the Jack Abramoff scandal.
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