Friday, May 25, 2007

The Odd Rehabilitiation of Rachel Paulose

One of the pleasures of this job is reading offbeat stories about "important" people far, far away. Following their ups and downs. It's just sort of fun checking in to see how old friends are doing.

Rachel Paulose is someone I have been following. You remember Rachel. She is the very talented, but very young and very political U.S Attorney in Minneapolis. Upon ascendancy to her position she promptly pissed off her professional staff and had to deal with the voluntary demotions of her four top assistants. Most people would have thought that after that mess her best course would be to keep her head down, do her job, and above all show some appropriate humility.

I guess when you are born to the purple, humility is considered inappropriate. Apparently she has elected to strike back with a public relations campaign. As a result she continues to find herself in the middle of a twin cities media storm.

Proud of her rapid rise through the political ranks, when appointed she staged an elaborate ceremony to crown herself the new US Attorney in Minneapolis. She didn't even occur to her to invite the person she replaced. She might have asked about protocol but that would have meant talking to the little people.

In short order both the coronation and her imperious approach to her job angered key career professionals. Her four top people demoted themselves rather than work with her. Her office is easily the Department of Justice's poster child for management problems.

At about the same time some pinhead at main justice decided to claim that management and or performance problems led to the firing of the famous Gonzales 8. Only one of those US Attorneys had any management problems to speak of. Certainly none of them found him or herself at the heart of anything like Paulose's self-inflicted problems.

Apparently because they felt they needed to do something to help with the larger US Attorney firing scandal, main justice didn't fire Paulose out of hand. Instead they sent one of their people to smooth things over. As part of that smoothing the 4 self-demoted promised not to say anything in public about Paulose and her management problems.

Within weeks a couple of articles appeared bad mouthing the 4 self-demoted officials. Although they referred to unnamed sources, Rachel's fingerprints were visible. The four career professionals were jealous. They were picking on a poor, poor, but brilliant "woman of color," a woman with a future they could not imagine. The four demoted employees complained that Rachel had betrayed them. Not a smart move for somebody wanting achieve success as US Attorney. Rachel's march to the US Supreme Court has been damaged, probably irreparably.

It's all about Rachel, after all, so last week self-confessed conservative columnist Katherine Kersten filed a puff piece called The Real Rachel Paulose which essentially reviewed her admittedly fine resume. "So why are the critics piling on Paulose today?" Kersten opines "Two reasons.

She's young, female, a "person of color" and an immigrant. (Her grandfather came here from India with $7 in his pocket in the 1960s, she has said, and the rest of the family followed.) If she were a political liberal -- as such people are expected to be -- she would be the toast of the town. But she's not. In some folks' view, such renegades must be run out of the public arena quickly before other minority folks get similar uppity, independent ideas.

Second, she's an evangelical Christian. "This image of her as a kind of Jesus freak is just bizarre," says Kendall. "I've read things [about this] I find hard to believe. The descriptions of her aggressive religiosity just couldn't be farther from the person I knew."
Somehow Kersten overlooked Paulose's imperious management style and the rather ugly problems they have fostered in the day to day operation of her office. Perhaps as important Kersten overlooked the highly political process that led to Paulose's appointment. That oversight was not missed by the blog Norwegiantly.

The other day Paulose's office brought charges against a bunch of folks involved in a prostitution ring. I guess Paulose, or her public relations people, thought it would be the perfect story to reintroduce her. Nothing heavy. Nothing self-important. Just Rachel doing her job.

Apparently Paulose is surrounded by idiots. On Monday, at the height of the swirl about Rachel's friend Monica Goodling's coming testimony, Paulose decided to have a presser. Not smart. After all Goodling is at the heart of the red hot US Attorney scandal and both she and Paulose admit they are friends, but they claim they became friends only after Monica decided Paulose was fab for the job of US Attorney. Somebody in Paulose's camp must have realized a presser might drift from the prostitution story. Never fear, as Brian Lambert reports
In what may have been a first for a Minnesota public official soliciting media attendance at a press conference in a public building, US Attorney Rachel Paulose's staff announced prior to the start of her Monday press conference that Ms. Paulose would NOT be taking questions off the topic of her indictment of 25 people in a prostitution ring.
Any bets as to the success of that announcement? Apparently it was like waiving a red flag in front of a bull. Lambert continues.
Obviously Paulose, stepping out of her double secret probationary sanctum for the first time since it was confirmed that yes indeed her predecessor, Tom Heffelfinger, was on a list of US Attorneys considered for firing, and only two days before her friend, the equally fresh-faced and unworldly Monica Goodling, was scheduled to testify before the House Judiciary Committee didn't want her photo op ruined. She collared some pimps and she was orchestrating credit for herself. Control was being exerted to prevent some no doubt Democrat-voting media twit from jostling her tiara with a biased question about, you know, how in the hell did she get her job?

And if it weren't for KARE-11's Scott Goldberg, followed by MPR's Elizabeth Stawicki and KSTP's Dana Benson, she might have pulled it off.
A controversy has developed involving Rachel's supporter Scott Johnson of Powerline and Kare11's Scott Goldman. Apparently Johnson is offended that Goldman, Stawicki and Benson went off the "ground rules" to ask Paulose questions about the impending Monica Goodling testimony. Goldman responded to Johnson's complaint by pointing out
In our industry, ground rules are conditions agreed upon by both parties before an interview takes place. The Paulose press conference didn’t begin with an agreement. It began with a decree.

And this is something I wanted to write about even before it appeared in the blog, because the press conference began so unusually:

Immediately before Paulose walked up to the podium, an aide announced that Paulose only would answer questions about the prostitution investigation.

That’s not a ground rule. That’s a joke.

A public official, in a public building, at a public meeting, can not tell reporters they are not allowed to ask questions about unpopular topics. That would be like Tony Snow announcing President Bush won’t be taking any questions on Iraq. Come on.

Let’s remember the backdrop:

1. This was the very first press conference Paulose held after three of the top lawyers in her office resigned their management positions and called her management style into question.

2. This was the very first press conference Paulose held after the news broke that the name of her predecessor, Tom Heffelfinger, had surfaced on a Justice Department “hit list.”

3. This was the very first opportunity we had to ask Minnesota’s new U.S. attorney about the scandal surrounding her boss, Alberto Gonzales.

4. This press conference happened to be taking place two days before Monica Goodling, the White House aide who played a role in hiring Paulose, was scheduled to testify in front of the House Judiciary Committee.

Knowing all of that, why on earth wouldn’t we ask Rachel Paulose about the elephant in the room?
In fairness the reporters did wade through the prostitution ring story for 27 minutes before they asked about the elephant. It is nice to know that the 4th estate is alive and well in Minneapolis.

It's pretty obvious that Paulose needs a new public relations team.