Another Gonzales aide bails out

Another Justice Department official involved in the controversial firings of federal prosecutors is resigning, the department said on Friday.

Mike Elston, the chief of staff to outgoing Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty, is the fifth Justice Department official to resign since March as the Democratic-led Congress investigates the department’s firing of nine U.S. attorneys.

Elston said he was leaving to join a law firm in the Washington area. His resignation takes effect next Friday.

Some of the fired prosecutors have said they received phone calls from Elston encouraging their silence about the firestorm surrounding Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, who ousted the prosecutors last year as part of a plan that originated at the White House.

Critics have questioned whether partisan politics played an improper role in the dismissal plans. President George W. Bush and Gonzales say the firing of nine of the 93 U.S. attorneys, all Bush appointees, was justified, although mishandled.

McNulty, who is also resigning amid the controversy, said in a statement, “With his breadth of trial and appellate experience, I have no doubt he (Elston) will continue to enjoy an outstanding legal career.”

Democratic Sen. Charles Schumer said almost every official involved in the firings was gone, except for Gonzales.

“Alberto Gonzales appears to be the last man standing but he should have been the first to go,” Schumer said.