MINNEAPOLIS – Rachel Paulose’s trying, 20-month tenure as the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota has come to an abrupt end. Paulose – whose clashes with career prosecutors in her own office sparked a staff rebellion and a federal probe into her handling of classified information – announced last month that she will step down in January to serve as a legal policy adviser to U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey and his staff in Washington.
Paulose, at 34 the nation’s youngest chief federal prosecutor and the first woman named to the Minnesota post, disclosed her resignation in a Nov. 19 statement.
“I have been honored by the opportunity to serve our nation as United States attorney for the District of Minnesota and to work with this office, our tremendous law enforcement partners and the people of Minnesota,” Paulose said. “I look forward to a new opportunity to work on policy issues that are important to the mission of the department.”
Paulose also praised the productivity exhibited by her office during her tenure, citing a tripling of child pornography prosecutions, the doubling of gun prosecutions and an increase in human trafficking indictments. But those successes have been overshadowed by repeated complaints from the attorneys who worked for Paulose about her management style and her outspoken conservative Christian beliefs, and ultimately, the withdrawl of support by Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who had endorsed her selection two years ago.
"I support Rachel Paulose's decision today to step down from her duties as Minnesota's U.S. attorney," Coleman said in a statement. "I have made it clear that I have had concerns about the office of the U.S. attorney under her watch, and I believe this decision will allow the office to move forward."
The Justice Department’s chief spokesman, Brian Roehrkasse, issued a brief statement in which he thanked Paulose for her service as the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota. However, he did not respond to questions about the basis for Paulose’s transfer, or its timing, nor would he confirm whether Mukasey had an active role in the decision.
Paulose’s tenure has been marred by turmoil. In April, barely one month after she was formally sworn in as U.S. attorney, three prosecutors resigned their supervisory posts, saying they could no longer work with her. One of the former supervisors also accused Paulose of violating federal civil service laws by using a racial epithet to refer to a subordinate. The Justice Department's Office of Special Counsel is currently investigating that charge, as well as allegations that Paulose mishandled classified material.
A separate, internal department audit revealed that her employees said she treated subordinates harshly and lacked the experience for her job.
Paulose – a former member of the Federalist Society, a conservative lawyers’ group whose members have taken many high-ranking posts in the Bush administration – has denied that she ever used a racial slur.
She has also accused her critics of singling her out because of her conservative religious and political beliefs.
Paulose fanned the flames on Nov. 16, when, in interview with conservative blogger and attorney Scott Johnson that was posted on the National Review Online Web site, she suggested that she was a victim of “The McCarthyite hysteria that permits the anonymous smearing of any public servant who is now, or ever may have been, a member of the Federalist Society; a person of faith; and/or a conservative (especially a young, conservative woman of color) is truly a disservice to our country.”
Paulose’s comments may have provoked another staff uprising in her office, as her senior litigation attorney, Michael Cheever, resigned suddenly and rumors began swirling in Minnesota’s legal circles that her new civil chief, Greg Booker, had decided to go back to working as a prosecutor.
Thomas Heffelfinger, Paulose’s predecessor as Minnesota U.S. Attorney, acknowledged on Nov. 19 that as many as three of her then-current staff managers had either resigned or were planning to do so that day.
Born in India and raised primarily in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan, the Yale Law School graduate was just 32 when she was named the interim U.S. attorney for Minnesota in March 2006, following Heffelfinger’s resignation. Paulose was eventually recommended for the permanent position by Coleman, an endorsement the U.S. Senate approved unanimously before it adjourned last Dec. 9 for the year. But despite her impressive academic record, Paulose’s relative youth, her affiliation with the Republican Party and her selection by the administration of U.S. President George W. Bush immediately led many to believe she won the job through cronyism.
Those suspicions intensified last winter as Congress looked into the firings of nine U.S. attorneys.
Paulose’s reputation took a hit because of her friendship with Monica Goodling, the Justice Department's White House liaison, who was a central figure in the process by which the U.S. attorneys were targeted for removal. Those concerns deepened when it was revealed that Heffelfinger had been under consideration for firing before he surprised the administration and quit to return to private practice.
Minnesota’s other U.S. senator, Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, said she was pleased that the office was "moving forward under new leadership."