Rachel Paulose, who was named head of the U.S. Attorney's office for the District of Minnesota in 2006, will be leaving to take a position at the Justice Department in Washington.
Paulose will become counselor to the assistant attorney general in Justice'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.
Former assistant U.S. attorney Doug Kelley described the move to CBS Station WCCO-TV correspondent Esme Murphy as being "kicked out and kicked up"- kicked out of a prestigious job in Minnesota, but landing in her boss' office in Washington in another well-paying government job.
Murphy said the transfer is a face-saving move, especially good for the young U.S. attorney who stands accused of very serious matters, including using a racial slur against an employee and retaliating against another co-worker. She has denied those accusations.
Essentially the political mess at the local level goes away, Murphy said, with Sen. Norm Coleman - who's up for re-election - among the most relieved.
Coleman supported Paulose's nomination at first, and then found himself in the politically awkward position of asking the new attorney general to look into the problems in the Minnesota office.
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 Alberto 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's transfer, which is effective in January, comes less than three weeks after Michael Mukasey took over as attorney general, succeeding Gonzales.
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.
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.
In January 2006, Paulose, then 32, began work at Justice in Washington under Acting Deputy Attorney General Paul McNulty and as a special assistant to Gonzales. One month later, she was named interim U.S. Attorney for Minnesota following Heffelfinger's resignation. Under the provisions of the Patriot Act, Gonzales' "interim" appointment was for an indefinite period.
She was unanimously confirmed for the permanent job by the Senate in December 2006, though her nomination bypassed the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Paulose was criticized by taxpayer advocates for an allegedly lavish "investiture" ceremony held to commemorate her confirmation as U.S. Attorney, complete with color guard and choir (although the Washington Post reported Justice officials said the cost was only $225). She also gained attention for her aggressive efforts to obtain "righteous sentences" in child pornography cases, but news reports also told of her dressing down employees and quoting Bible verses to them.
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.
"For 18 months she has experienced significant internal management issues," Heffelfinger said in a telephone interview. "I'm not surprised it finally got the attention of main Justice." He added that the change will allow for a more harmonious U.S. attorney's office.
Heffelfinger said he was surprised that Paulose was getting a new position in Washington.
"It is unusual to be moving from a presidential appointment to a staff lawyer job," Heffelfinger said.
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.
Heffelfinger told WCCO: "Those problems will continue to follow her; those offices do not stop their investigations simply because someone leaves the position."
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.
"This, I hope, is the last chapter in the legacy left by Alberto Gonzalez," Klobuchar told WCCO
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 released a statement Monday: "I look forward to a new opportunity to work on policy issues that are important to the mission of the department." Reached on her cell phone, she declined to comment further.