WASHINGTON – Rachel Paulose, the embattled U.S. attorney for Minnesota, will be leaving the post to take a position at the Justice Department in Washington, ending a tenure marked by complaints about her management style.
She will become counselor to the assistant attorney general in the Justice Department's office of legal policy, department spokesman Brian Roehrkasse said in an e-mail statement. He did not respond to requests for comment on why the change was taking place.
Paulose's transfer, which is effective in January, comes less than three weeks after Michael Mukasey took over as attorney general, succeeding Alberto Gonzales.
In April, three top supervisors stepped down from their management roles in Paulose's office and went back to prosecuting cases, prompting a visit from a high-ranking Justice official.
That occurred just as Congress was investigating allegations that eight U.S. attorneys were fired and replaced by loyalists of President Bush, raising questions about Gonzales' credibility and independence.
At the time, Sen. Norm Coleman, R-Minn., who had championed Paulose's nomination, told her he was "deeply disappointed" to learn of the resignations in her office.
Paulose was just 32 and working for the Justice Department in Washington when she was named interim U.S. attorney in February 2006 to succeed Tom Heffelfinger, who had resigned and returned to private practice. She was unanimously confirmed for the permanent job by the Senate in December 2006.
"I look forward to a new opportunity to work on policy issues that are important to the mission of the department," she said in a statement Monday. Reached on her cell phone, she declined to comment further.
Earlier this year, it emerged that some Justice Department officials had considered firing Heffelfinger, and Paulose became caught in the crossfire with renewed questions about cronyism and whether she had enough experience for the job. The House Judiciary Committee has been seeking documents from the Justice Department showing whether politics played a role in Paulose's replacement of Heffelfinger, a widely respected prosecutor. Heffelfinger has maintained that he had not been pressured to leave.
In May, the department's former White House liaison, Monica Goodling, testified that the department had concerns about the amount of time Heffelfinger spent on American Indian issues. She also said that she and Paulose became friends after Paulose was hired, but hadn't spoken in a few months.
Paulose's troubles flared up again recently over allegations that she had made racially disparaging comments about one employee and mishandled classified documents that should have been kept locked up. The Justice Department began an internal investigation.
Coleman responded by urging Mukasey, then the attorney general nominee, that there should be a "thorough review" of the allegations, and that the Justice Department needed to provide better management support to U.S. attorney offices.
In an interview with a friend who was writing for National Review Online for an article posted last week, Paulose denied making the comments. She also said she had reported the security incident to the Justice Department herself and that she was cleared of any security violation.
In a sign of her dwindling political support, both Minnesota senators said Paulose made the right decision in leaving the U.S. attorney post.
"I have made it clear that I have had concerns about the office of the U.S. attorney under her watch, and I believe this decision will allow the office to move forward," Coleman said in a statement.
The state's other senator, Democrat Amy Klobuchar, said she didn't think it was a coincidence that the move was being made soon after Mukasey took over the Justice Department. She said she planned to talk to department officials on Tuesday to discuss a successor.
"We need someone who can hit the ground running," Klobuchar said in a telephone interview. "A number of people in the office could do a good job. Given the timing, with the president having only a year left in office, it's most important to stop the turmoil and have some stability in the office."
Rep. Keith Ellison, a Minnesota Democrat and House Judiciary Committee member, said there is now an opportunity to restore the office to "its historic high standards."
Paulose and her family immigrated to the U.S. from India when she was a child, and she grew up in the Twin Cities area. She is a graduate of the University of Minnesota and Yale Law School.