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Why former U.S. attorney Rachel Paulose is guilty as charged

By Eric Black | Thursday, Dec. 4, 2008 Turns out, Rachel Paulose, the former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, was guilty as charged on two of the allegations of misconduct that led to her resignation from her Minnesota post a year ago.

Rachel Paulose
Rachel Paulose

Turns out, Rachel Paulose, the former U.S. attorney for Minnesota, was guilty as charged on two of the allegations of misconduct that led to her resignation from her Minnesota post a year ago, a federal watchdog agency has ruled.

The Office of Special Counsel, which handles complaints of retaliation against whistleblowers and has been on Paulose’s case for almost two years, found that Paulose did indeed mishandle sensitive national security materials and did indeed retaliate inappropriately against her top subordinate after he reported her for those transgressions.

The subordinate, Assistant  U.S. Attorney John Marti, will be awarded back pay and receive from the Justice Department a lump sum settlement of undisclosed size to compensate him for his mistreatment by Paulose. Paulose had promoted Marti to be her top deputy then, according to the OSC finding, and forced him out of that position.

I haven’t seen the full report, and from the OSC’s press release it isn’t clear whether several other allegations of impropriety against Paulose, including the use of racial epithets, have been resolved or are still pending. If I can find out the status of the other allegations, I will report back.

Paulose, who left her Minnesota job for a sinecure in the Justice Department’s Washington offices, has not commented on the ruling against her. In the past, she denied any wrongdoing and alleged 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).”

At the time, I pointed out that the Minnesota office had run smoothly before the Paulose era under conservatives and under an African-American leader, and that among Paulose’s accusers was a young woman of color.

It certainly was true that many liberals had a bad attitude about members of the conservative Federalist Society, but Paulose also presumably benefitted from her conservative bona fides when she was appointed, despite a thin resumé, by the Bush administration to the top federal law enforcement position in Minnesota.

Insufficiently ‘Bushie’
Paulose, in case you don’t recall, was connected (not through any fault of her own) to Minnesota’s minor role in the long-running allegation that the Justice Department forced out well-qualified U.S. attorneys who were deemed to be insufficiently “Bushie” in favor of more reliable conservatives.

In the Minnesota chapter of that story, Paulose’s predecessor, Tom Heffelfinger, a two-time Republican appointee, resigned after his name had begun circulating Washington on a list of U.S. attorney’s who might be fired. Heffelfinger has always asserted that his departure was voluntary and that he knew nothing of his inclusion on such a list. Paulose was friendly with at least one key player, Monica Goodling, in the operation to replace U.S. attorneys.

Not long after Paulose took office, four of her top subordinates, including Marti, took demotions, apparently to protest against what they considered her abusive management style. Although Marti technically resigned, he also filed a complaint with the OSC saying that he believed he was about to be fired. Wednesday’s OSC ruling essentially agreed with that allegation.

Paulose was unable to repair relations with her staff. Her theory, and that of her defenders, was that she was being hounded by liberals, racists, sexists and ageists. My reporting at the time suggested it was really about her high-handed and dysfunctional management style. In Marti’s case, there was another sensational element that was concealed within his confidential OSC complaint, until it first came to light in September 2007. Specifically:

As U.S. attorney, Paulose received regular reports about the status of the war on terror, drawing on up-to-date information assembled by intelligence and law enforcement agencies. The reports, classified “secret,” were supposed to kept locked up. For about a year, Paulose regularly left the reports loose in her office, sometimes unattended, where they could have been seen by unauthorized people. Marti spoke to her about it and, as required by regulations, filed a report with the national office that oversees U.S. attorneys.

Paulose began threatening Marti with the loss of his position as the No. 2 attorney in the office. He heard from colleagues and even from a federal judge that Paulose was bad-mouthing him, making false allegations against him and telling them that she was going to replace him.

Late in her tenure, when Paulose was trying to hang on to her job, she claimed that she had reported herself for improper handling of the materials and had been cleared of any wrongdoing. But the OSC apparently concluded otherwise and, in agreeing to pay Marti and settle the case, the Justice Department declined to argue the question further.