The news that Rachel Paulose would be leaving as U.S. attorney was hardly shocking. (See "Minnesota's embattled U.S. attorney steps down" in the Star Tribune.) And I am sure that there are many in the U.S. Attorney’s Office rejoicing. The gulf that had grown between our 34-year-old U.S. attorney and her staff was wide, and, in the end, proved insurmountable.
I believe that Paulose made the right choice in opting to end her often stormy tenure and accept a policy job in main Justice in Washington, D.C.
It has always been my belief that it was a management situation causing the disruptions at the office. Paulose has sterling academic credentials and a highly impressive resume for her age. But she had little real management experience.
Intent on impressing her bosses and no doubt deeply believing in her priorities, she plowed ahead and redirected the office without getting buy-in from the troops. She was also reportedly sometimes dictatorial in manner and abrasive toward subordinates. These are rookie mistakes frequently made by inexperienced managers. But when that manager is in charge of 100 talented individuals at the U.S. Attorney’s Office and operating in a fishbowl, there is little room for error.
While I am not adverse to occasionally giving an important role to a highly talented young person and giving them a chance to grow into it, such a person needs guidance and support. As far as I can tell, such support was completely lacking from the problem-riddled Department of Justice.
While I did not agree with all the actions taken by some in Paulose’s office (particularly those leaking information), I believe that their motivations arose out of the difficult employment situation they found themselves in rather than race or gender animus.
And I likewise don't believe the charge bandied around the Web that Paulose somehow has racist tendencies. As a woman from an immigrant family from India, she found that speculation particularly hurtful. I know that she is willing at the drop of a hat to give a long list of past accomplishments showing her interest and commitment to the Civil Rights area, including her recent work in human trafficking, which often involves woman from foreign cultures.
So what are we left to think of Paulose?
I had the pleasure of getting to spend some time speaking with and getting to know Paulose while I was covering the various management-related controversies in her office. The Paulose I got to know was neither the Wicked Witch of the West that some of her detractors made her out to be nor the “St. Rachel” of some conservative blogs (and for that matter, of Katherine Kerstin’s somewhat over-the-top salute in the Star Tribune last May, “The Real Rachel Paulose.”)
I found Paulose to be a highly driven and even at times charming individual who also is a fallible human being. She is definitely conservative, but not very political. (Ironically, had she cared more about politics, she might have been able to rally some political support when she needed it so badly.) She is a brilliant woman with encyclopedic knowledge. Most surprising of all was the fact that Paulose has a keen sense of humor – albeit a wryly dry one.
Unfortunately, most of Paulose’s subordinates apparently never got to see this side of her. Because of her poorly developed management skills, she came across as aloof, condescending and inflexible. She was apparently so busy being defensive after being thrown in at the deep end of the pool that she never let her personality shine through.
Sadly, I think Paulose was starting to improve in recent months. She was no longer micromanaging, but instead was spending a lot of time on the road on outreach projects and delegating the day-to-day operations to her experienced deputies. Had she adopted this approach from the beginning, we would likely not be at this point now.
Then Paulose made her final misstep -- issuing a public comment online about the internal dispute in her office. It is ironic that that was the nail in Paulose’s coffin. She was generally very shy about talking on the record about anything for public consumption, no doubt due in part to her inexperience dealing with the media. I suppose the battering she was taking in the media and on the Internet finally got the best of her. Understandable, but unfortunate.
It is my hope that Paulose will view this as a learning experience rather than accept some of the easy excuses some of her more vocal supporters have been offering her. She was only 32 when she was thrust into a management situation that most 50 year olds couldn’t handle. She was given little or no good support from an incredibly dysfunctional DOJ. She struggled mightily, but was unable to pull it off in the end. No shame in that.
In short, Paulose is a remarkable young woman with a lot to offer. While I think higher-ups in the Administration did her a disservice by moving her along too far, too fast, I am equally sure she has already begun contemplating how she can get the seasoning she needs to make sure she is properly prepared for her next great challenge – be that in public service or the private sector. In the near term, I am glad to hear the people of the United States will continue to benefit from her extensive talents as she moves on to a role that is, for the present, better suited for her.
In closing, I would like to point out that Paulose’s tenure in Minnesota has not been wasted. Despite the internal problems, the office did some great work in investigating and prosecuting child-porn and human trafficking cases. I would not have that forgotten due to the recent turbulence. Minnesotans can truly be grateful to Paulose and the entire staff of the U.S. Attorney’s Office for their Herculean efforts in those areas. It’s a legacy worth having.