Rachel Paulose, the embattled U.S. attorney for Minnesota, suffered through an awkward moment Tuesday when a retirement party for a long-serving prosecutor in her office turned into a thunderous ovation for several of Paulose’s severest critics. Word of the incident has buzzed through the Twin Cities federal legal community and become the latest symbol of a very rough 18 months since Paulose took over the top federal law enforcement job in Minnesota.
Paulose has been under increasingly harsh public scrutiny about how her appointment is connected to the Bush administration’s alleged politicization of the Justice Department, and about how she has run the office. Four high-ranking supervisors in the office voluntarily took demotions to non-supervisory positions as a protest against Paulose’s management style. The House Judiciary Committee has questioned Justice Department officials about the circumstances of Paulose’s appointment, and U.S. Rep. Keith Keith Ellison has publicly disparaged the chaotic situation within Paulose’s agency. Congress is seeking to question Paulose under oath.
This account of the Tuesday incident comes from people who were present but requested anonymity.
On Tuesday afternoon, about 70 employees of the U.S. attorney’s office and other guests gathered in a big conference room to recognize the departure of Assistant U.S. Attorney Perry Sekus. Sekus is leaving to join the legal staff of UnitedHealth. Paulose was present.
As speakers paid tribute to Sekus, several made reference to the difficulties over recent months, a clear allusion to the widely known tensions of the Paulose era. The speakers praised Sekus for the dignity with which he had handled them.
Paulose presented Sekus with a plaque, a typical honor for departing prosecutors. Sekus accepted the plaque without expressing the praise or gratitude for the head of the office that the eyewitnesses said is normal on such occasions.
When it was his turn to address the group, Sekus deflected the compliments that had been sent his way and said that those who deserved the praise were the former supervisors who had resigned their posts, because their actions had required courage.
At that, the room erupted with loud, sustained applause that could not be taken as anything other than solidarity with Paulose’s internal critics and appreciation for the sacrifice they had made to protest against her — clearly a spontaneous release of the tensions within the office. According to a witness, the ovation was so loud that it had to represent the applause of 90 percent or more of those in the room.
The awkwardness was further intensified by the presence of at least five federal judges, since those judges preside over the trials handled by the U.S. attorney’s office.
Paulose was present throughout and could not have left without calling attention to herself. One of the eyewitnesses said she had a glazed look during the ovation.
Minnesota Monitor has solicited Paulose’s comment on the incident, but she has not yet returned a phone call.