WASHINGTON – Rachel K. Paulose, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota who sparked staff rebellions and a federal probe into her handling of classified information, is resigning to return to the Justice Department’s Washington headquarters, department officials said Monday.
Paulose, at 34 the nation’s youngest chief federal prosecutor, was part of a wave of Bush administration insiders dispatched to run U.S. attorney’s offices around the country in what Democrats and other critics said reflected a strategy by then-Attorney General Alberto Gonzales to inject politics into the administration of justice.
The appointments were one aspect of a controversy triggered by the unusual firings last year of nine U.S. attorneys. The resulting firestorm on Capitol Hill eventually prompted Gonzales to resign.
None of the appointees stirred as much heat as did Paulose. She drew complaints from lawyers who worked for her, from critics of her outspoken conservative, Christian beliefs and, ultimately, even from the Republican senator who had endorsed her selection.
The Justice Department’s Office of Special Counsel had been investigating allegations that she had mishandled classified material and made a racist remark to a staff member. An internal department audit found that her employees said she treated subordinates harshly and lacked the experience for her job.
In an interview with a blogger last week, posted on National Review Online, the usually press-shy Paulose denied saying anything racist to the staff member and added that “the department is defending me against this outrageous and defamatory lie.”
She also decried “the McCarthyite hysteria” that surrounded her.
The brief interview provoked some of Paulose’s staff, according to her predecessor as Minnesota U.S. attorney, Thomas W. Heffelfinger. He said in an interview Monday night that “at least one and as many as three of her current staff managers either had resigned or were threatening to resign today.”
Such defections would have been the second in Paulose’s office in less than a year. This spring, her top assistant and two other senior prosecutors stepped down from their management responsibilities, saying they no longer could work with her.
Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who had endorsed Paulose but later criticized her, praised her resignation Monday. “I believe this decision will allow the office to move forward,” he said.