The federal Office of Special Counsel is investigating allegations that Rachel Paulose, U.S. attorney for Minnesota, mishandled classified information, decided to fire the subordinate who called it to her attention, retaliated against others in the office who crossed her, and made racist remarks about one employee.
Paulose did not return phone calls seeking her comment. Black Ink will publish any response that she makes.
The investigation has been under way since June. The Office of Special Counsel, which handles complaints about retaliation against whistleblowers and prohibited personnel practices by political appointees such as Paulose (that’s her at the podium in the photo at right), appears to be taking the allegations seriously. Investigators from two of its regional offices have been to Minnesota to interview witnesses and may be back for more. I could not find out when the OSC, an independent executive branch agency that is not part of the Justice Department, might complete the investigation.
The allegations also undermine the claim, which was put out for public consumption in April, that four top supervisory officials in the office had voluntarily stepped down to lower positions because of differences with Paulose over management style. The highest ranking of those four, former First Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti, resigned after learning that Paulose was about to dump him. Marti, who remains in the office as an assistant U.S. attorney, also declined to discuss the matter.
While the allegations are unproven, the ongoing investigation reaffirms that a dysfunctional climate in the top federal law enforcement agency in Minnesota continues.
By most insider accounts, Paulose remains at odds with much of her staff, who are non-political career officials. Federal investigators interviews with the staff about their boss’s alleged misdeeds keep alive the hope among her critics that she will not last until the end of President Bush’s term.
If the Office of Special Counsel finds evidence of serious wrongdoing by Paulose, they could refer the matter to the president, the only person who could remove her. The lesser specific allegations of bad personnel practices, if substantiated, could be referred to Paulose for corrective action. If Paulose remains in office until the end of Pres. Bush’s term, it would be normal practice for the next president to replace her.
The investigation does not deal with questions of how Paulose’s predecessor, Tom Heffelfinger, came to be included on the list of U.S. attorneys targeted for dismissal, or how Paulose was chosen to replace him. Those questions put Paulose’s appointment into the larger controversy about improper politicization of the operation of U.S. attorney’s offices nationwide, which led to the recent resignation of Attorney General Alberto Gonzales.
The conflicts enumerated in this matter are not explicitly political or ideological, except for one instance in which Paulose allegedly made false statements about a job candidate who had liberal associations.
But the pattern of the matters under investigation by the special counsel may shed some light on the gray area between issue of “management style” and issues of politics.
When Paulose took over the office, she told several of the career officials there that she demanded total personal loyalty. At least one replied that loyalty was owed to the Constitution, not to her. Many of the allegations raise the possibility that Paulose crossed the line while seeking to punish personal disloyalty.
My knowledge of the allegations comes from sources familiar with the investigation. The summary below reflects the areas into which the investigators have been inquiring:
*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.
*Paulose committed large and small acts of retaliation against others in the office whom she accused of disloyalty to her. In one instance, after changing the job assignment of one employee, Paulose allegedly said that she would make the woman so miserable that she would want to quit. In some instances, Paulose allegedly ordered those in charge of performing job evaluations to downgrade the reviews of those she considered disloyal, or turned down requests that they be allowed to perform work outside the office. The allegation is that Paulose took these actions against employees for reasons other than the quality of their work, but rather for offenses like advising her that some actions she was contemplating would exceed her legal authority.
*Paulose allegedly denigrated one employee of the office, using the terms “fat,” “black,” “lazy” and “ass.”