Is Rachel Paulose being hounded from office by people who are soft on prostitution?

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A University of Rhode Island professor “suspects” that there is a campaign under way by unnamed Justice Department officials to hound U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose from office to punish her for her “aggressive commitment” to prosecute human trafficking cases.

She offers no details and no evidence, but Women’s Studies Professor Donna M. Hughes, who supports a vigorous federal crackdown on human trafficking, has written a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey alerting him to this suspicion. She is circulating it, hoping to pick up signatures of others from across the political spectrum as Mukasey considers what to do about the embattled U.S. attorney for Minnesota. The letter appears to be an effort to lobby Mukasey not to fire Paulose.

The letter was made public (and can be read in full) on Powerline, the conservative blog where attorney (and Paulose friend) Scott Johnson has vigorously defended Paulose’s character and performance in office against an array of allegations.

Paulose’s job is indeed in jeopardy, but until this breathtaking new theory was introduced by Hughes and Powerline, the jeopardy was attributed to several other causes. She was promoted by the now-discredited circle of Justice Department officials who were implicated in the forced resignations that caused several openings for new U.S. attorneys who were considered to be “loyal Bushies.” She had little administrative/managerial experience to run a large office and has alienated most of the staff in the Minneapolis office.

* Several of Paulose’s highest-ranking subordinates voluntarily took demotions to non-management positions to protest against her leadership style. Her staff has been in nearly open rebellion against her, on one occasion bursting into applause, in her presence, to honor those who demoted themselves.

* She is the subject of an ongoing investigation by the federal Office of Special Counsel into allegations that she mishandled classified material and mistreated employees. She received a very negative job review by a team of Justice Department specialists, focusing on her shortcomings as a manager and administrator. A pending Equal Employment Opportunity Commission complaint alleges that Paulose created a hostile working environment by making a racist remark about an administrative employee in the office — a remark that has been corroborated by two witnesses.

* The morale of the office has been in the toilet for many months. One of her predecessors, former U.S. Attorney Todd Jones who hired her for her first federal job, told the New York Times that his former colleagues described the office as “dysfunctional” and said that there was “an inability to have effective leadership move forward in a nonpartisan way.”

* The same New York Times article portrayed her situation as “representative of much that went wrong at the [Justice] Department under” former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales and as representing “what [Mukasey] is up against in restoring stability to the Justice Department.”

* Sen. Norm Coleman, who sponsored Paulose’s appointment, has become a critic, and extracted a promise from Mukasey to look into the problem and take corrective action. Her original sponsors and patrons at Justice and in the White House are gone.

So, yes, as Prof. Hughes’ letter suggests, Paulose’s tenure is in some jeopardy. But the idea that her problem derives from powerful dark forces in Washington who are soft on human trafficking, child prostitution and related crimes is a breathtakingly new explanation for Paulose’s problems since taking office. It is offered without any names, facts or other form of substantiation. Hughes is careful to describe her theory as a “suspicion” and a “surmise” but she offers not even a theory as to why — in a Justice Department in which the prosecution of human trafficking and child pornography have been officially declared to be priorities — these unnamed department officials have decided to hound from office anyone who implements the stated policy.

I called Hughes Wednesday and left both voice and email messages asking her for any backup. I haven’t heard back, but if she supplies any I will pass along her response.

I also asked Paulose’s predecessor, Tom Heffelfinger, to assess the Hughes theory. He made three points.


* Yes, Paulose has aggressively pursued human trafficking prosecutions, and he salutes her for it.

* No, during his years in the Justice Department, he never heard of any element that was opposed to cracking down on these crimes. On the contrary, this policy unites several important departmental factions: those who favor cracking down on street crime; those who want to emphasize crimes against women; and those who want to emphasize border security (since many human trafficking crimes involve women who have come illegally across the border).

* No, from everything he has heard from his former colleagues and subordinates in the U.S. attorney’s office, “there’s no link” between Paulose’s troubles and the priority that she has placed on trafficking cases. Her problem is not based in Washington. Her problem is based in Minneapolis.

Paulose will speak at noon Tuesday at the University of Minnesota’s Humphrey Institute. Her talk is titled: “End Slavery Today: Policy Responses to Human Trafficking.”

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