Nonprofit, nonpartisan journalism. Supported by readers.


Kersten assails pundits but ignores key fact: Paulose was a lousy manager

Good Tuesday morning Fellow Seekers,
In her Monday column, my friend and former Strib colleague Katherine Kersten assails unnamed “pundits,” “anonymous self-interested leakers” “aided and abetted by former employees of the U.S.

Good Tuesday morning Fellow Seekers,

In her Monday column, my friend and former Strib colleague Katherine Kersten assails unnamed “pundits,” “anonymous self-interested leakers” “aided and abetted by former employees of the U.S. attorney’s office” who employed shameful tactics of “rumor and innuendo” to commit both “a classic campaign of character assassination” and even “the professional crucifixion” of former U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose.

Wow. Them there’s some right hefty word choices. Who were these assassins? What motivated them to crucify Paulose? Why did she let them get away with it?

That, Kersten doesn’t say. (I call that a fairly large hole, which I invite her to fill.) She implies (arguing by implication would seem to be a questionable tactic, especially when complaining about rumor and innuendo) that the lynch mob was motivated by an inexplicable sympathy for child pornographers and human traffickers. But Kersten doesn’t say this was the motive (that was tried earlier), so I guess she doesn’t have to offer any evidence to back up her innuendo.

Article continues after advertisement

Having reported on the problems that led to Paulose’s resignation, I want to reaffirm my confidence that every word I wrote about Paulose has stood up. None of it has even been challenged, at least not directly.

I never criticized Paulose — nor quoted anyone, named or unnamed, who criticized her — for embracing the Bush Justice Department priorities on prosecuting pornographers and traffickers. I accept that U.S. attorney is supposed to follow the departmental priorities set in Washington. I also do not condemn (and never condemned) Paulose for the fact that she was appointed for political reasons. All U.S. attorney appointments are political. Nor was she hounded from office by the allegation she was politicizing the office. Kersten suggests that the pundits, leakers and abetters… painted Paulose as an incompetent political hack who overemphasized Justice Department priorities such as child pornography and the sexual trafficking of women and girls at the expense of more important, local concerns, such as gangs, guns and white-collar crime.

Someone may have said that. I know I never did. Nor did any of my sources ever make that argument to me. And it was never ever close to the essence of the problem that led to Paulose’s departure. That essence was this:

Paulose was a lousy manager, and she was given (yes, through a political appointment process) a job that requires considerable management skills. She didn’t know how to treat subordinates, and suddenly she had a lot of them. And she alienated them. Pretty much everyone in the federal legal community of Minnesota to whom I spoke, including some that liked Paulose, knew this.

She was not the least qualified person ever appointed to the post, but her particular underqualification was in this vital area. She had no experience managing a large office, and it turned out she had no talent for it either. The very people that Paulose herself promoted to be her top subordinates quit in protest against her management style, which they found degrading. That was the first story that alerted the attentive public to what the problem was with Paulose.

Why did the office’s four top non-political appointees voluntarily take a demotion and a cut in pay? Were they racist, sexist (one was a black woman, by the way) ageist, anti-religion? All of these have been implied, even reported in both The New York Times (via blind quotes) and in previous pieces in the Strib (especially a C.J. column). Did they resent Paulose for being a Republican (they had served happily under Paulose’s Republican predecessor, and the office is no den of liberal Democrats)? Kersten does not answer these questions, does not raise them, does not even mention the resignations.

The vast majority of the staff came to dislike Paulose, leading to an embarrassing incident in which the whole staff, in Paulose’s presence, applauded thunderously for remarks that everyone present knew to be an attack on her. Were they all secret pornography sympathizers?

By the time she left office, Paulose was under serious investigation by the federal Office of Special Counsel (an agency of the Bush executive branch that deals with issues of improper treatment of employees), was the subject of an EEOC complaint alleging that she had created a hostile work environment by making racist remarks about a member of the administrative staff, had received a devastatingly negative job review by a team of specialists from U.S. attorney’s offices from around the country (the office got a good review, it was Paulose’s leadership that got panned). The day she resigned, Paulose was facing yet more resignations of top managers (the ones she had appointed to replace the ones who had resigned previously). What was the thread that connected all these alligators snapping at Paulose’s heels? Hmmmm?

Sen. Norm Coleman, who sponsored Paulose’s appointment, had come to believe that she had to leave and had asked the incoming attorney general to attend to the problem in the Minnesota office. Did Coleman turn on her because of her race, her sex, her party (same as his party), her Bushiness, her prosecutorial priorities, her religiosity? Kersten offers no theory on this question, and takes no notice of Coleman’s position on the Paulose question. Coleman, by the way, attributes Paulose’s problems to the management issue.

Article continues after advertisement

Through a miracle of selective perception, Kersten never mentions the management issue, never has so far as I know.