The area's top federal prosecutor on fighting crime, being active and prosecuting John Walker Lindh. 

"Have Impact"

Since becoming U.S. attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia in September, Paul J. McNulty hasn't been easy to keep up with. He's speeding back and forth between Richmond, Norfolk and Alexandria. In Alexandria, he's working on the prosecution teams for two notorious figures: Zacarias Moussaoui, who is facing charges of conspiracy with terrorists, and alleged Taliban-conspirator John Walker Lindh.

Not only that, but McNulty oversees more than 250 attorneys and staff members in the Eastern District offices. On Thursday, he announced the two successors for James B. Comey, the former ranking assistant U.S. attorney in Richmond who is now U.S. attorney in the Southern District of New York.

By phone from his car, heading south on the highway last week, McNulty took a moment to talk with Style about his role in the 9/11 trials, the office shake-up, and his plans for fighting crime in Richmond.

Style: How specifically will you combat crime in Richmond in the coming years?

McNulty: Well, in Richmond city? Richmond city actually has gone very well in this way. This, in some ways, will probably affect more some of the communities outside of Richmond. In Richmond city, with Exile, we have a great model for the city law enforcement working very closely with the federal law enforcement to try to make the neighborhoods safer. And I think they've achieved great results. I think everybody would agree with that. So we'll just continue to build on that foundation in Richmond city.

And whether it's a case like the Fulton Hill gang case, or whether it's a continuation of Exile — we'll be expanding Exile — these things have been successes in Richmond city. And what I hope we can do is look at places like Petersburg, and even small communities like Farmville. We've been very active in Emporia, and we've had a big case recently in Surrey. And look around the region and say, "Where can we make a difference? Where can we lean forward to have an impact on those communities by identifying who are the people who are causing violence, trafficking in drugs, disrupting the lives of the community?" So that's what we call the community-impact initiative.

What's the story behind the appointments to replace Jim Comey?

Yesterday [Thursday, Feb. 7] was the day I came down and I named the new leadership of the office. And Stephen Miller was named as the managing assistant United States attorney and John Davis was named as the criminal chief. … Basically, I've replaced Jim Comey with two people because Jim did so much. …

So, Stephen is responsible for the overall administration aspect of the office, and keeping the vision in view for everyone. … He's also going to help me with the outreach to law enforcement. That's a big, big part.

If there's anything that comes out of our discussion here, I want you to understand that as U.S. attorney, my calling card is working with local law enforcement to achieve together a safer community, and have impact on communities. Change the way people live. Make it safer. That means you have to work very hard at strengthening the relationships with law enforcement, setting goals together, developing strategies for combating violent drug crime, especially. And Stephen's really worked closely with me on that, as someone who will reach out to the community, to make this happen.

John Davis — he's the criminal chief — … is going to be responsible for the day-to-day oversight of the criminal prosecutors in the office, using all the management tools that are available to a supervisor to organize and to direct, in a practical way, their efforts. That's part of what Jim Comey did, a big part of what Jim did. And John Davis is going to take on that responsibility, but he'll be able to put more time into it.

The last piece of the leadership team is Debra Prillaman. Debra's the civil supervisor. … Stephen, John and Debra would all work very closely together to sort of direct that office. And I'll be very present in this too. I'll be in Richmond a lot, and I expect to be a very active U.S. attorney in the Richmond office.

Back to Project Exile, there's concern over some of the formerly convicted criminals now being released and coming back and having no support system. How would you change Project Exile to fix that?

Well, I don't know if Project Exile needs to be changed. Project Exile involves a kind of infrastructure of cooperation that is well set, with the Commonwealth Attorney's Office under David Hicks and my office working closely together, booking cases and deciding whether or not they should go federal or they should be prosecuted in state. And that process will continue. We may put more effort into it. … The outreach part is critical. I think if we stay aggressive, if we put more resources into it, we can keep that success going. I think we can prevent a rise in gun crime in Richmond city.

Switching tracks a little bit, what exactly is your role in the trials of Zacarias Moussaoui and John Walker Lindh? You're working with Jim Comey up there?

In the case of Moussaoui, we have a team of New York [District] and Eastern District prosecutors working together, and we have used some of the resources that the Southern District of New York employed for the embassy-bombing effort, in Africa, the case that they prosecuted a few years ago. So Jim Comey and I are in almost daily contact with each other. But Jim is a step removed, because the case is in Virginia. … He and I try to do things together, like notify victims; we type the letters together. … As it gets closer to trial, we'll just have to take it one step at a time.

Now on Lindh, I do have a Southern District of New York aattorney, James Kelly, on the team. But it's not the same as the Moussaoui case, it's not the same; he's more or less just coming down to the Eastern District to participate in this prosecution.

And are you going to be in the courtroom as all this is going on or still moving back and forth?

My job is to provide oversight and direction, and I'm very engaged in the day-to-day process. I'll try to be as present as I possibly can. It depends a little bit on scheduling and how many weeks these things go. We'll have to see how it all plays out. But I'm smart enough to know [chuckles] that we've picked the most experienced people in the office and given them the responsibility to do it, and I'm sure they'll do a great job.


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