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Wednesday, November 14, 2007

Minnesota U.S. Attorney's Office Revisited

There has been a lot of back and forth of the Internet and elsewhere about whether or not new U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey will keep on U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose or give her walking papers. There are certainly some in her office -- and a number of partisan blogs -- lobbying for the latter. And indeed, it wouldn’t shock me if that happened. Most politicians do the easiest thing , and let’s face it, it’s much easier to throw something away and get a new one rather than to try to salvage it. We do live in a throw-away culture, after all. But personally I am loath to do that with human beings unless we have to.

My opinion of the situation of the situation at the Minnesota U.S. Attorney’s Office has not significantly changed since last April, when I wrote a column expressing my views on it. At that time I pointed out that while Paulose appeared to be highly intelligent and hard-working 34-year-old woman with a sterling educational and legal background for her age, she was an inexperienced manager who made some managerial missteps due to that inexperience. Those mistakes occurred in a tinderbox environment because the people she was managing included career prosecutors with significantly more age and seasoning. As a result, she definitely suffered some growing pains, or, as former assistant U.S. attorney Hank Shea recently put it, had “a baptism by fire.”

Paulose does seem to be learning, reportedly delegating a lot more and promoting awareness of her office by doing outreach work on the road. The complaints I see circulating in the blogosphere trace back to events six months or more ago. (There are, of course, a number of matters under investigation in the office, and those matters no doubt will continue to be looked into.)

I have no idea what Mukasey will ultimately decide to do about the situation at the Minnesota office. Hopefully, he will examine the facts closely and weigh all the options before rushing to a decision. Personally, I would like to see him continue to give Paulose a chance to show that she has learned something from her experiences. If nothing else, you have to admire her pluckiness for even wanting that chance after the battering she has taken in the media and on the Internet. I can't quite decide if she is highly committed or just plain masochistic.


Anonymous said...

Depends on how you define "masochistic."

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Here you have a smart and talented young lawyer with top academic credentials and a diverse background. She could be making much more at a big law firm with much less aggravation. Instead she chooses to walk into a public office every day and face down a difficult situation. And anyone who saw the front-page piece in yesterday's New York Times knows she can't be doing it for the glory. So why?

I don't really think she's being masochistic. I suspect that she actually believes in what she is doing -- going after the kiddie porn and human traffickers.

You can disagree with the priorities if you like, but it undoubtedly takes a lot of guts and stubborn determination to soldier on as she has under the circumstances. Whatever happens, it's hard not to respect that.

Anonymous said...

what do you think of the 'experienced', 'older' prosecutors in that office? Do you think they should be investigated? Who has been leaking confidential information to the media? Who is still stirring the pot with events happened six months ago? Do you think Rachel Paulose's predecessors took the easy route and didn't want to ruffle any feathers as far as dealing with these destructive office culture? Do you think DOJ now is some what powerless to deal with this office and may want to take the easy route which is to let Ms. Paulose go? If that happened, do you think that would be fair to the people of this district? Rachel Paulose may be demanding productivity. She may be demanding prosecutions based on this administration's priority. What do you think is the real issue here? Who's agenda is to remove Ms. Paulose from this job? I observe one thing: This young woman is focused on the job with a passion and putting up with a lot. One has to admire that!

Mark Cohen, editor said...

Hmmm. So many points here. Let me try just a few.

Not a big fan of the leaking of the info about the internal investigation. What I didn't like about what was going on during Gonzales' tenure was there was some folks flouting DOJ directives, such as the one prohibiting the consideration of politics in filling career prosecutor spots.

Meanwhile, someone in the Minnesota office took it upon him or herself to leak confidential info in violation of DOJ policy. So yeah, if I were Mukasey, I'd be looking into that too. Call me old fashioned, but I like prosecutors who follow the rules, not ones who break the rules when they are inconvenient.

I would agree with you that Paulose's decision to redirect he office and take a hands on approach was a major factor in what happened. I am sure many of the career prosecutors would have preferred a figurehead boss who took a hands-off approach. (Hey, I love those too!) You can add in there I am not sure they respected her when she went in there (a 34-year-old -- even a highly intelligent one -- implementing the priorities of a less-than-popular administration -- that's a tough situation). On the other side, they apparently felt she did not respect them. I think a little managerial support from the DOJ could have helped, but they don't seem big on management training there.

As to your final point, it's tough to predict what Mukasey will do. There is only a year left in Paulose's tenure and she is apparently (quite smartly) now taking a hands off approach in the day-to-day operations. So maybe he will let be. On the other hand, Mukasey may just want to do a general housecleaning, in which case he may look into the conduct of the entire office, I suppose.

The whole situation is unfortunate. It is a highly talented office -- and even through all this has been doing some good work -- but I don't think anyone comes off smelling like a rose here.

As for Paulose, I wouldn't worry too much about her. I gather she is the type who will land on her feet regardless. I think even her detractors in the office would grudgingly give her points for tenaciousness.