WASHINGTON - Former Minnesota U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose is gone, but not forgotten.

The 34-year-old prosecutor, whose 20-month tenure in Minnesota was marked by controversy, remains mired in a standoff between the Justice Department and a watchdog agency that accuses federal officials of impeding an investigation of her actions.

The latest allegations have been brought forward by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel, which is demanding that U.S. Attorney General Michael Mukasey cooperate in a probe into allegations of gross mismanagement and abuse of authority by Paulose.

Paulose, who returned to Washington this month to serve as a legal policy adviser to Mukasey and his staff, did not respond Tuesday to calls and e-mails asking for comment.

Her case is cited along with a number of other investigations -- including the firings of more than a half-dozen U.S. attorneys around the nation -- that U.S. Special Counsel Scott Bloch alleges "are being impeded" by top Justice officials.

Bloch's allegations provide the most detailed accounts to date of the management controversies that beset Paulose in Minneapolis. Among them: charges that she had staffers spend months preparing for an elaborate swearing-in ceremony, and that she upbraided subordinates who told her she couldn't use government funds to purchase Christmas trees and other ornaments in the U.S. attorney's office.

Several Minnesotans in Congress expressed dismay at the suggestion of Justice Department stonewalling.

Republican Sen. Norm Coleman, who nominated Paulose for the job, said he was "troubled" by the allegations. "Prior to the Senate confirmation of Attorney General Mukasey, I indicated to him that a full and complete investigation must be carried out," Coleman said.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat, called Justice Department cooperation "essential." Rep. Keith Ellison, D-Minn., an outspoken critic of former Attorney General Alberto Gonzales, added his support to Bloch, saying, "This circus has gone on long enough."

Agency blasts 'disregard'

Bloch's allegations are based in large part on a whistleblower complaint brought by former First Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti, one of several top managers who stepped down from their supervisory roles because of disputes with Paulose. Marti declined to comment on Tuesday.

Bloch's accusations are contained in a letter he sent to Mukasey on Friday and was obtained by the Los Angeles Times and Minneapolis blogger Eric Black, a former Star Tribune reporter who now writes for MinnPost.com.

In it, Bloch complains of the Justice Department's "disturbing pattern of disregard" for the authority of his office, which serves as the government's principal agency for protecting whistleblowers and keeping politics out of the federal bureaucracy. He accuses the Justice Department of failing to take action on an internal staff review of Paulose and the whistleblower complaints his office received from Marti.

Justice Department spokesman Peter Carr declined to comment, saying "We are reviewing the letter and will respond to Mr. Bloch as appropriate."

Bloch maintains that Associate Deputy Attorney General David Margolis told him last month that the allegations against Paulose do not constitute gross mismanagement or abuse of power. He also said that Margolis requested that he reconsider his findings.

The special counsel's office maintains that the Justice Department is required by law to follow up on whistleblower allegations brought forward by the special counsel. "It's not an option," said James Mitchell, a spokesman for Bloch.

Ornaments and ceremonies

Attached to Bloch's letter is his office's referral on the Paulose matter, dated Nov. 19, the same day she announced her resignation.

The referral, addressed to Mukasey, explicitly details what Marti and other employees described as Paulose's "heavy-handed and inappropriate" management style. It also calls into question what were thought to be hallmark achievements of her tenure.

For example, it alleges that Paulose was slow to implement a program designed to protect children from abuse in order to push ahead with plans for an elaborate swearing-in ceremony.

The document also alleges that Paulose was lax in handling of classified documents, and that she sought to use government funds to pay for meals, receptions, Christmas trees, cards and decorations.

Kevin Diaz • 202-408-2753 Conrad Wilson • 202-408-2723