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They watched, some with wide, attentive eyes, others with distracted glances, or between soft, sly snickers to each other. They crossed their legs, fiddled with their badges, and most likely thought about something else — tonight’s happy hour, 100 other things — than what was going on. Or about the man up front sitting with his back to them. They didn’t know it (why would they?), that today, on the longest day of the year, a longtime government servant was going gently into the night. And if they paid enough attention, they just might have learned a thing or two about how Washington works, the real one, not the “West Wing” soundstage they thought they were visiting for the summer. If they didn’t know who Paul McNulty was before, it’s possible that they learned it for the first time sitting there in the hearing room, reading the prepared remarks from the House subcommittee that had hauled the erstwhile deputy attorney general before it yet again, seeking answers in a scandal that still has yet to touch bottom. There were lessons for them, large and small, in the Rayburn building. Some poignant, others telling, and because this is the center of American political theatre, still more that were ridiculous. And they were these, in no particular order: 1) Hurry up and wait: The rush to the hearing is for seats, not for the fear of missing anything. As in a wedding, it takes a while to get to the action. Today, Democrats Linda Sanchez (California) and John Conyers Jr. (Michigan) and Republicans Chris Cannon (Utah) and Lamar Smith (Texas) all exchanged prepared statements and rebuttals to prepared statements for 45 minutes before McNulty ever uttered a word. 2) Free speech isn’t absolute: If they didn’t know that before, they learned it here, in the halls of Congress, when eight or so middle-aged protesters from Code Pink were asked to leave for the simple act of holding signs in the gallery directly behind McNulty. “Is there a lawyer in this room?” one of them cried out to a crowd, of course, that was lousy with them. No one said a word and they left muttering, Capitol Police in tow. 3) The minority always wonders what we are doing here: For ranking member Cannon, the U.S. attorney scandal has devolved into a cable movie on Lifetime, with former Justice Department aide Monica Goodling as the eyelash-batting heroine. (Sarah Michelle Geller, call your agent.) “Why are you here, Mr. McNulty?” Cannon asked rhetorically. “It’s because Ms. Goodling presented an alluring he said, she said moment.” Cannon went on to say that it all had something to do with blogs, although it wasn’t clear what. 4) Nobody loves you when you’re down and out: McNulty, who spent years of his career as Republican counsel to the very House committee that was now probing his conduct at Justice, received no shortage of love from the members, including the venerable Conyers. That didn’t, of course, prevent anyone from questioning his honesty. Asking McNulty about his claims that he had little involvement in determining which U.S attorneys would be sacked, Conyers said, “You don’t know anything about it. You cut yourself out of the loop on this matter. It’s kind of hard to believe. [But] I believe you.” 5) And when you’re at a loss for words, go with metaphor: Conyers, again: “The White House is where all the breadcrumbs are leading us and then they get lost in the snow or something.” 6) Don’t try to be funny. Conyers wasn’t trying to be funny with his breadcrumb analogy. But Rep. Ric Keller (R-Fla.) was when he repeated the oft-quoted line from Harry Truman about Washington, “If you want a friend in Washington, get a dog.” Lampooned Keller: “I bought a dog, and it bit me.” Even the interns saw that coming. He’ll be here four times a week, folks. 7) And the most important one of all: The R�sum� Doesn’t Matter. Or to quote the late Livia Soprano, “It’s all a big nothing.” You’re McNulty and you devote, as he noted, 22 years to the government, serving as a congressional lawyer, as the U.S. attorney in Virginia who convicted the so-called 20th hijacker, and, ultimately, the No. 2 official in the whole damned Justice Department. When the time comes, you take the bullet with a smile, even though you weren’t the attorney general’s first choice for the job. (That was his White House comrade, Tim Flanigan, who couldn’t get confirmed.) And once in the job, Gonzales sent out a memo giving his aides power over hiring and firing your people. You never even saw that memo until you read about it in the media. Then, when you quit, the AG rolls over on you the day after your resign; his aide, Goodling, accuses you of intimidating her. Democrats say you’re stonewalling. And your choice is to look like you were lying to Congress or that you are the No. 2 official that nobody ever spoke to about anything important. Even worse, you have to sit there and take it. “You were the caboose,” Rep. William Delahunt (D-Mass.) told McNulty. “You were zoned out of the process. I think you were poorly treated. It’s my belief you were thrown under the bus.” It’s a bus that, right now, hasn’t left any marks, at least ones that are visible. But that’s the trick, interns. Just keep watching. The wounds are there. And do yourself a favor if you plan on making a career out of this. Remember today.
James Oliphant is editor in chief of Legal Times . He can be contacted at [email protected].

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