Internal discord in the office of U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose has led to an investigation of complaints that she retaliated against dissenters.
The internal upheaval that roiled the upper ranks of the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota last spring has prompted an investigation by an independent federal agency that looks into whistleblower and discrimination complaints involving federal employees.
The investigation by the Office of Special Counsel was revealed Tuesday morning by Eric Black on his blog, ericblackink.com.
Citing unnamed sources, Black said the matter grows out of allegations that U.S. Attorney Rachel Paulose mishandled some classified documents by failing to secure them properly in her office, and that she demoted First Assistant U.S. Attorney John Marti after he discussed the alleged security breach with her, then reported it up the chain of command.
Paulose also is alleged to have retaliated against some staff members for perceived disloyalty, and to have downgraded some job reviews for reasons other than performance, Black wrote.
Paulose declined to discuss the specifics of the investigation. "Since the matter is ongoing it would be inappropriate to comment at this time. I am confident the truth will be brought to light," she said.
"I am focused on doing the work of the people, which is what I was appointed to do."
Marti, who is still an assistant U.S. attorney, said because of his position he could not comment either. "I'd like to see the process work its way," he said. "And I am not going to have any comments beyond that."
The Department of Justice referred questions about the matter to the Office of Special Counsel (OSC). Loren Smith, the agency's director of congressional and public affairs, declined to comment.
The OSC exists to protect the merit system for federal employees, Smith said. It conducts civil investigations into prohibited personnel practices, including discrimination, reprisals against whistleblowers and retaliation against employees who properly exercise their rights and fulfill job duties.
The tempest at the U.S. attorney's office first spilled into public view on April 5. Word leaked quickly through the federal bar that Marti, civil chief Erika Mozangue, and criminal chief Jim Lackner had resigned their management jobs as a group and returned to prosecuting cases full time. Further, human resources officer Tim Anderson asked to be relieved of the office management duties he had been performing.
News reports said the upheaval had to do with Paulose's alleged dictatorial and hands-on management style, among other things.
Citing sources familiar with the investigation, Black wrote Tuesday that Marti only resigned from his management job after learning that Paulose was going to remove him.
But that seems at odds with an April 27 letter that Marti, Mozangue, Lackner and Anderson sent to Paulose. In the letter, which was leaked anonymously at the time to the Star Tribune, the employees complained about media reports that, they said, had erroneously implied that they had resigned their management jobs "based on bias and animus."
The employees did not deny that they had resigned voluntarily, but rather, asked Paulose to set the record straight about "our actions."
The employees cited Paulose's previous internal e-mails and public comments in which she praised their experience and skill. Paulose had said that she supported the decisions of Marti, Mozangue and Lackner to return to prosecuting cases, which would benefit the office with "high-profile, sophisticated cases in the years to come."
Mozangue and Lackner, who are still assistant U.S. attorneys, declined to comment Tuesday.
The Office of Special Counsel receives about 2,000 complaints a year, Smith said. If an investigation finds that a violation occurred, the OSC can bring the matter before the U.S. Merit Systems Protection Board.
The complaints often are resolved with a settlement. In some cases, Smith said, the OSC will require the agency involved to do its own investigation. "But we audit it," he said.