What -- or who -- ended Rachel Paulose's stint as U.S. attorney?

The controversial prosecutor's defenders said unnamed enemies were out to get her, but ultimately it may be that Paulose's friends were her undoing.

Published November 21, 2007 5:35PM (EST)

Rachel Paulose's tumultuous tenure as U.S. attorney in Minnesota finally ended on Monday, when she stepped down in order to take a job back with the main Justice Department in Washington. It had been a rough couple of weeks for Paulose, though she had some staunch defenders by her side, arguing every step of the way that she was being targeted unfairly for her prosecutorial priorities, even for who she was as a person. The irony, though, is that Paulose's time as U.S. attorney may not have been brought to an end by some nefarious liberal cabal, but -- unwittingly -- by her friends.

Paulose had been one of the poster children for the scandal that developed out of the Bush administration's decision to fire nine U.S. attorneys, which has often been attributed to a desire on the part of the administration to have its loyalists, capable or not, in those positions. Her management style was often criticized, as was her decision to hold an elaborate investiture ceremony for herself, featuring a color guard and choir. In April, four of her office's top managers effectively demoted themselves in what Minneapolis' Star Tribune calls "a group protest of her management style, which has been described as dictatorial and at times vindictive." And she had recently come under investigation by the Office of Special Counsel on allegations that she had mishandled classified information -- and retaliated against an employee who reported the mishandling -- and that she had used disparaging terms when referring to another employee.

But Paulose did have her defenders. For example, there's Donna Hughes, a professor at the University of Rhode Island, who suggested that Paulose was being attacked because of her prosecution of human trafficking cases. Hughes forwarded to the conservative blog Powerline a letter supporting Paulose that is being circulated for signatures. The letter says, in part, "[W]e believe it reasonable to at least surmise that Department officials who believe in priority treatment of anti-trafficking initiatives are subject to acute hostility from within the Department. ... Clearly, Ms. Paulose has faced serious resistance on the part of some within the Department for taking an office which had brought no trafficking cases before she arrived and for having made it what it clearly now is: The country's leading U.S. Attorney's Office in prosecuting the predators who enslave and destroy trafficked girls and women." Contacted by Salon, Hughes said by e-mail that "The letter and the collection of signers is not complete, therefore it is not yet public. I regret that the early copy of the letter was made public." Asked whether she had any direct evidence that Paulose was targeted because of her office's efforts against trafficking, Hughes responded, "Rachel Paulose was the leading prosecutor of sex trafficking cases in the U.S. She took over an office where there had previously been no trafficking prosecutions and turned it into the leading one. Therefore, our coalition has serious concerns when a problem erupts that results in her leaving office."

Well, of course, you might say -- after all, we all know there's an organized, powerful group of people out there who are just vehemently opposed to the prosecution of the people who sell girls and women into sexual slavery, right? But Paulose herself provided a whole other list of reasons she had become the target of these unfair attacks. In a rare interview, given to her friend, Powerline blogger and Minneapolis attorney Scott Johnson, Paulose said that "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."

These comments may well have been the last straw for Paulose. They were apparently perceived by members of Paulose's staff as attacks upon them and their character, and as such they reportedly were going to lead to another wave of resignations of supervisory positions. (Previous comments like those Paulose made in her interview with Johnson had been a source of controversy in the office as well, as the former supervisors who had resigned their supervisory posts earlier in the year sent her a letter asking her to repudiate similar assertions about their motives for resigning.) Minnesota blogger Eric Black reported on those forthcoming resignations on Monday morning; just hours later, Paulose announced that she was heading back to main Justice.

Video: Alex Koppelman on Palouse's move

By Alex Koppelman

Alex Koppelman is a staff writer for Salon.

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