Rachel Paulose plays seven victim cards


The campaign to save Rachel Paulose’s job as U.S. attorney for Minnesota shifted into high gear last week. Perhaps she and her supporters believe that the decision will be made in the days ahead and want to rally some counterpressure. But the tactics and arguments employed make it even less likely that, if she keeps her job, she can reconcile with those she has alienated on her staff or function effectively as the leader of the office.

The Paulose campaign team seeks to portray her as a martyr and as a victim of most of the forms of prejudice and unfair smear tactics known to U.S. history. On Friday, Paulose herself became the spokesperson for the defense team.

Opinion: Rachel Paulose plays seven victim cards

The martyr piece is the argument that Paulose is under attack by dark forces inside the Justice Department who want to destroy Minnesota’s chief federal prosecutor as punishment for her aggressive prosecutions against human trafficking. That argument debuted on Wednesday. I’m still waiting for some evidence and a theory as to why these powerful unnamed Washington career-killers prefer that sex slavery go unprosecuted.

On Friday, Paulose, in a single 48-word sentence, played the race card, the gender card, the religion card, the age card, the ideology card, the Federalist Society card, and the Joe McCarthy card. That’s a large percentage of the cards available in the victimology deck.

Here’s the sentence, published Friday at National Review Online by Powerline blogger and Paulose friend Scott Johnson:

Paulose adds: “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) is truly a disservice to our country.”

Let’s parse that sentence.

First, McCarthyism. What does Paulose have in common with the victims of McCarthyism? Is membership in the conservative legal organization The Federalist Society now equivalent to membership in the Communist Party then?

I can think of some important differences. Paulose got her job in part because she was a conservative, a Republican, a Federalist Society member and a loyal Bushie. As Scott Johnson points out, this is normal and too much has been made of Monica Goodling’s admission that partisan politics played a role in Paulose’s appointment. But there is also clear evidence that Paulose works for an administration of (in McCarthyist terminology) Federalist Society members, sympathizers and fellow travelers. Nothing remotely similar could be said about the “commie symps” whom McCarthy targeted. It’s an important difference.

Perhaps in invoking McCarthyism and “anonymous smearing,” Paulose refers to the tendency of Sen. Joseph McCarthy to destroy people’s reputations and careers without offering any evidence or providing them a chance to defend themselves. Is that what has happened to Paulose?

Doesn’t feel that way to me. She is the subject is of two investigations by federal agencies (the Equal Employment Opportunities Commission and the Office of Special Counsel) and is the subject of an extensive (and unflattering) Justice Department review over her job performance. Her accusers have filed complaints, in their own names and on the government record, although the documents have not been made public because the matters are ongoing. Would Paulose like those documents, detailing the complaints against her, released to the public? I wonder.

The agencies are taking evidence, questioning witnesses, and affording Paulose every opportunity to present exculpatory evidence and testimony. Meanwhile, she keeps her job and has been the subject of several interventions from senior officials wanting to teach her how to do it better. How close to McCarthyism is this?

Recklessly, much like Clarence Thomas did in 1991, Paulose plays the race card. (Note that in his NRO piece, Johnson says Paulose has been “the subject of an old-fashioned, low-tech media lynching.” Justice Thomas, during his confirmation hearings, said that he was the victim of “a high-tech lynching for uppity blacks.” Weird. What was high-tech about his and low-tech about hers?)

Paulose asserts that she is getting the lynch mob treatment because she is “a young, conservative woman of color.” She is 34, undeniably female, and of Indian ethnicity (born in India, in fact). Paulose is herself accused of making a racist statement, involving a woman of color who works in an administrative position in the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Paulose’s statement allegedly included the words “fat,” “black,” “lazy” and “ass.” Friday, in a statement to her friend Johnson, Paulose flatly denied the allegation:

“I NEVER made any such statement. I have told the department so, and the department is defending me against this outrageous and defamatory lie.”

(By the way, what does it mean that the department is defending her? Paulose also claims that she has been “absolved” of another of the charges under investigation, that she mishandled classified national security documents. Really? Who granted this absolution, when and on what basis? Perhaps if she made these claims to someone a bit more skeptical than a friend, she would be asked these questions.)

As to the alleged racist comment, Johnson believes her denial implicitly, based on knowing her for 10 years and on the fact that “Rachel is herself an Indian-American immigrant sensitive to racial slights.”

But the utterance of the racial slight has been confirmed by two witnesses, both of them women. The subject of the remark is both female and African-American (she’s the one who complained to the EEOC that the remark created a hostile work environment). Erika Mozangue, who stepped down as head of the agency’s civil division in April 2007 to protest Paulose’s management style, is a woman of color. Which of these are biased against Paulose because of her race or gender?

Before Paulose, the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office had an excellent reputation as a high-functioning office and a good place to work for career lawyers who were willing to leave their partisan politics at the office door. This reputation continued under Paulose’s predecessor, Tom Heffelfinger (at right), who is a staunch lifelong Republican, as it had under Heffelfinger’s predecessor, B. Todd Jones (at left), who is African-American.

The atmosphere changed pretty quickly under Paulose, who alienated the staff by her insulting management style, by demanding total personal loyalty of her subordinates (many of whom believed they owed their highest loyalty to the country, the Constitution and the rule of law), and by the way she mistook disagreement for disloyalty and retaliated against those whom she deemed disloyal. Jones, who hired Paulose when he was U.S. attorney, described the office’s current state as dysfunctional. The morale of the office is in the toilet. Paulose has cut herself off from contact with much of the staff.

Does Paulose believe her leadership has been so flawless that no one can criticize her unless they are biased against her race, gender, age or ideology? Is she interested in taking any of that famous Republican “personal responsibility” for the decline in the functioning of the office since she arrived?

It has been publicly suggested, at least twice, that those who have criticized Paulose are motivated by some combination of racism, sexism and reverse age-ism, once by the Strib gossip columnist Cheryl Johnson (d.b.a. C.J.) and once in the New York Times by unnamed “Paulose defenders at Justice Department headquarters.”

The supervisors who demoted themselves in protest against Paulose’s allegedly incompetent and insulting management style took these as personal attacks on them. They wrote a private letter to Paulose asking her to publicly repudiate these assaults on their reputations. She never did. Until Friday. Only instead of repudiating the insults, she repeated them, this time in her own voice, offering no names, no specifics, no evidence, ignoring the irony that she was implying prejudice against women of color by women of color, and providing no opportunity for anyone other than her devoted friend to cross-examine her and no public procedure for those so impugned to rebut the charges.

By defending herself in this fashion, Paulose may have foreclosed any last possibility of reconciliation with the staff. If you want to repair your relationship with someone, don’t call them a bigot. They may not like it, agree with it, or forgive it.