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Paul McNulty had just 37 days to get the Justice Department ready for action. Charged with leading the department’s transition for the incoming Bush administration, he held one of the most sensitive political assignments in Washington. The DOJ had been a touchstone of partisan division in the Bill Clinton years, but now pragmatism was in order. So McNulty made an unusual deal with acting Attorney General Eric Holder Jr.: The Clinton staffers would stick around for a few weeks and work side by side with the new folks to ensure a smooth turnover. “It made a lot of sense,” Holder says. “I think the institution benefited from it, and I would hope that as transitions occur in the future they will look at this as a model. It was pretty gutsy of them.” It was also vintage McNulty, the kind of approach that served him well for 16 years as a Capitol Hill staffer and deputy attorney general in the first Bush administration. And it’s indicative of the style McNulty is expected to carry with him to Alexandria later this year as the U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia. President George W. Bush hasn’t named McNulty for the post, but several DOJ officials suggest the nomination is his as soon as the Federal Bureau of Investigation completes its report. McNulty declined comment. While McNulty is deeply conservative, liberal opponents who have battled with him over criminal justice policy describe him as a willing, though shrewd, negotiator and an amiable adversary. National Legal Aid and Defenders Association lobbyist Scott Wallace notes that though he disagrees with McNulty “on just about everything, he’s very likable and as reasonable as his portfolio allows him to be.” McNulty enjoys the support of the law enforcement community — the Fraternal Order of Police lobbied for his nomination for the Eastern District — and he may have the deepest ties to Main Justice and the FBI of any potential U.S. Attorney. He has worked for former Attorneys General Richard Thornburgh and William Barr, as well as for Reps. Bill McCollum, R-Fla., Henry Hyde, R-Ill., Dick Armey, R-Texas, and Sen. George Allen, R-Va., when Allen was Virginia governor. And McNulty has had a hand in crafting almost every crime initiative put forward since the late 1980s, including the Anti-terrorism and Effective Death Penalty Act, the federal “three strikes” law, and increased federal prosecution of firearms offenses. In January, he helped coach Attorney General John Ashcroft through his confirmation process. Robert Mueller III, Bush’s nominee for FBI director, is a former Main Justice colleague and McNulty fan. McNulty, Mueller says, “is one of the most knowledgeable people about criminal legislation passed by Congress in the past 10 years, not only about the legislation itself, but also the legislative history that led to its passage.” He knows criminal justice policy “from having lived it as opposed to having read it.” AT FIRST, A DEMOCRAT McNulty didn’t start out as a crime guru. Nor was he originally a Republican. Raised in a suburb of Pittsburgh, he was the third of four children in an Irish Catholic family. He graduated from Grove City College, having become a devout Presbyterian along the way. He married while still in law school, earning his J.D. from Capital University School of Law in Columbus, Ohio, in 1983. When he and his wife, Brenda, moved to Washington that year for his new job as counsel to the House Committee on Standards of Official Conduct, McNulty was a Democrat. In 1985 he went to work at the Legal Services Corp. as director of government affairs. At the time, Rep. McCollum was the main House overseer of the LSC. McCollum would later seek out McNulty to fill the minority counsel position for the House Judiciary crime subcommittee in 1987. That began a long stretch as a criminal justice expert for Republicans on the Hill and at the Justice Department. In 1990, McNulty went to work at fellow Pittsburgh-native Richard Thornburgh’s Justice Department as deputy director of policy development, where his first assignment was drafting the DOJ’s views on the 1990 crime bill he’d helped craft while on the Hill. It was a huge jump in pay to go from minority staffer to the executive branch, which provided some financial relief to McNulty, who was already the father of three children. Then-Deputy AG Barr’s office was just down the hall, and the two soon became friends. McNulty was on vacation in Asia in the spring of 1991 when Thornburgh announced his intention to run for the Senate seat left vacant by the death of Pennsylvania Sen. John Heinz. Barr, who became acting attorney general upon Thornburgh’s departure, called McNulty into his office the day he returned, and told him he’d like McNulty to be the spokesman for the department as well as the policy director. “The thing that really sets him apart is his judgment,” Barr says. “He understands the law very well, and he understands the underlying policy. If you had to go to anyone in the country to understand what is happening anywhere on the criminal justice front and what the DOJ approach is, he would be the place to go.” When Barr, who is now general counsel to Verizon Communications, was confirmed as attorney general, McNulty became director of the newly created Office of Policy and Communications. “He basically spent a good portion of the day with me. He traveled with me. And whenever any matter of substance was discussed, he was usually involved, even on specific cases,” says Barr. Barr’s tenure as attorney general coincided with the worst years of the crack cocaine epidemic, and he and McNulty saw firsthand in their trips across the country the havoc that crack was wreaking. The experience helped mold McNulty’s approach to law enforcement and corrections. “We sat around talking about what law enforcement should be doing,” Barr says. “Paul played a big role in formulating the approach of being tough on crime while addressing the root causes.” The results included the DOJ’s Weed and Seed program and Project Trigger Lock. Weed and Seed was an effort to “weed” out violent criminals and provide “seed” money to struggling neighborhoods, while Trigger Lock was an early effort — since retooled as Project Exile and, now, Safe Neighborhoods — to prosecute gun offenders under federal laws. Barr’s DOJ pursued a host of other tough-on-crime ideas, such as limiting federal habeas corpus petitions, extending mandatory minimum sentences to a wider swath of crimes, expanding the reach of the federal death penalty, and allowing certain evidence to be obtained without a warrant. When Bill Clinton won the 1992 election, Barr and McNulty joined what is now Shaw Pittman. They also started the First Freedom Coalition, a nonprofit forum for promoting the criminal justice concepts they had originated at DOJ. As debate over the 1994 crime bills roiled, McNulty wrote an editorial published in the Dayton Daily News excoriating the softer elements of the bills, including funding for crime prevention programs. He outlined his views on what a good crime bill would include: at least $10 billion for state prisons as an incentive to end the early release of prisoners; relaxing state prison population caps imposed by federal courts; “a death penalty that doesn’t take more than a decade to carry out”; and increased federal penalties for violent crimes. He also called for a ban on assault weapons and has advocated for the maintenance of records from the background checks of gun purchasers, positions that have not endeared him to the gun lobby. Although he was in private practice, moderate Republicans on the Hill called McNulty to help them salvage the 1994 crime bill, which was bound up in a feud between Democrats and conservative Republicans. The resulting bill kept many of the “soft” provisions, such as midnight basketball, that McNulty had criticized. But it also vastly expanded the death penalty, enacted the “three strikes” rule, and gave states money for new prisons. By all accounts, McNulty seemed much more comfortable in the public sector than in a law firm. In fact, the Fairfax, Va., resident kept his foot in the public sphere as policy adviser to then-Gov. Allen’s Commission on Parole Abolition and Sentencing Reform, headed by Barr and former U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia Richard Cullen. In that role, and as a current board member of Virginia’s Department of Criminal Justice Services, McNulty has worked closely with local law enforcement officials in Virginia. When McCollum asked him to be chief counsel for the crime subcommittee after just two years of private practice, McNulty returned to the Hill for a very busy four years: working behind the scenes on the Whitewater and Waco investigations, and taking a more public role in the impeachment of President Bill Clinton. McCollum, who co-chaired the Waco hearings and is now at Baker & Hostetler, says McNulty was a “very even-tempered” player in the highly charged proceedings. “He did a good job of bringing balance into those hearings,” he says. McNulty was both chief counsel and director of communications of the Judiciary Committee throughout most of the impeachment imbroglio, appearing on television talk shows and the nightly news with the committee’s message. In 1999, he became chief counsel and director of legislative operations for House Majority Leader Dick Armey, where he recently focused on bankruptcy reform. Even during the most trying days of the impeachment, McNulty kept an almost preternatural cool. No matter how heated or off-track a meeting would get, “Paul could bring the focus back,” says Sam Stratman, former spokesman for the House Judiciary Committee who is now spokesman for the House International Relations Committee. Just looking at McNulty’s desk, Stratman says, gives one the impression he can calmly juggle 10 things at once. From end to end, “his desk is organized around tall stacks of work, neatly piled,” he says. Throughout it all, McNulty cemented a reputation for mastering policy matters and playing the best hand possible. “Paul will recognize that which is important from a policy perspective, but he’ll also recognize that which can be achieved,” says Ira Raphaelson, a partner in the D.C. office of O’Melveny & Myers and bank fraud czar in Barr’s DOJ who went to Shaw Pittman in 1992. “He has a good sense of when a compromise is needed — a take-what-you-can-get approach to law enforcement policy.” Some opponents say that while McNulty always listens to their views, that doesn’t mean he will heed them. “He has a gift that is not common in this town, which is being able to disagree without being disagreeable,” says the NLADA’s Wallace, who crossed swords with McNulty over habeas reform while a lobbyist for the National Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “It’s perhaps frustrating to those on the other side, when you have encounters and you expect there to be some movement and then nothing comes of it. That makes him a good political warrior, someone who doesn’t give up any more than is compelled by political necessity.” McNulty, Wallace adds, “held firm when he held the cards.”

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