Another Department of Justice staffer, and one who is a central figure in the firing scandal, has resigned:
A senior Justice Department official who helped carry out the dismissals of federal prosecutors said Friday he is resigning. Mike Elston, chief of staff to Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, is the fifth Justice official to leave after being linked to the dismissals of the prosecutors.
Elston was accused of threatening at least four of the eight fired U.S. attorneys to keep quiet about their ousters. In a statement Friday, the Justice Department said Elston was leaving voluntarily to take a job with an unnamed Washington-area law firm.
Morale at the Department of Justice must be reaching terrible lows...
House Judiciary Chairman John Conyers said the resignation raises a red flag for investigators.
"When yet another significant player resigns in the U.S. attorney scandal, it only deepens the mystery of who targeted U.S. attorneys for firing, why they did it, and what exactly is going on in the highest reaches of the Justice Department and who is filling the vacuum of leadership that has developed there,'' said Conyers, D-Mich.
As McNulty's top aide, Elston's duties included overseeing the government's 93 U.S. attorneys nationwide. Elston helped plan and carry out the firings of seven of the eight prosecutors who were dismissed in 2006 - firings which were orchestrated by two of Gonzales' top aides beginning shortly after the 2004 elections. Elston also called several of the U.S. attorneys afterward trying to quell the growing outcry.
At least four of the prosecutors Elston contacted said they felt threatened by his calls, which they interpreted as demands to stay quiet about why they were fired. Congress is investigating the firings, which Democrats believe were politically motivated.
Elston and his attorney, Bob Driscoll, said the phone calls were never meant to be threatening.
Statements released from the House Judiciary Committee painted a different picture.
"I believe that Elston was offering me a quid pro quo agreement: my silence in exchange for the attorney general's,'' wrote Paul Charlton, the former U.S. attorney in Nevada.
John McKay, former top prosecutor in Seattle, said he perceived a threat from Elston during his call. And Carol Lam, who was U.S. attorney in San Diego, said that "during one phone call, Michael Elston erroneously accused me of 'leaking' my dismissal to the press, and criticized me for talking to other dismissed U.S. attorneys.''
A fourth former U.S. attorney, Bud Cummins in Little Rock, Ark., had made a similar accusation in an e-mail released in March. At the time, Elston said he was "shocked and baffled'' that his Feb. 20 conversation with Cummins could be interpreted as threatening.
"I do not understand how anything that I said to him in our last conversation in mid-February could be construed as a threat of any kind, and I certainly had no intention leaving him with that impression,'' Elston in a two-page letter to Sen. Charles E. Schumer, D-N.Y., who had questioned the call.
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