Last Friday, Rachel Paulose walked out of the U.S. attorney's office in Minneapolis for the last time.
Pundits would have us think it was a day for celebration. In a classic campaign of character assassination, the media dinned into our ears the claims of anonymous leakers in Paulose's office. Over the months, the drip, drip, drip of rumor and innuendo resulted in the professional crucifixion of a fine public servant and a fine human being.
Paulose's critics were primarily pundits and self-interested leakers, aided and abetted by former employees of the U.S. attorney's office. They painted Paulose as an incompetent political hack who overemphasized Justice Department priorities such as child pornography and the sexual trafficking of women and girls at the expense of more important, local concerns, such as gangs, guns and white-collar crime.
Now that the campaign has succeeded in driving her from office, we're learning -- too late -- who Rachel Paulose really is.
Far from floundering under Paulose, the U.S. attorney's office achieved record productivity, according to a Star Tribune analysis. Prosecutions for drugs and civil rights violations increased, while white-collar crime prosecutions stayed steady. Federal firearms cases nearly doubled, according to B.J. Zapor of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Paulose accomplished this despite a yearlong hiring freeze that left her office down the equivalent of five full-time prosecutors.
St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington is among the law enforcement leaders who have lined up to sing her praises. "Rachel Paulose has been the most aggressive U.S. attorney that I've ever worked with, and the most successful," he said. Soft on gangs and drugs? "On her watch, we saw more aggressive and far-reaching investigations and prosecutions of criminal organizations than ever in the past -- including street gangs, narcotics cases, and effectively eliminating one of the oldest and largest methamphetamine organizations in St. Paul," Harrington said.
"Her office took cases that wouldn't have been accepted under other U.S. attorneys," he said. "That meant, for example, that we could go after not just a big dope dealer, but the supply network that he was working with."
Did Paulose give lopsided focus to human trafficking and child porn? "Rachel believed that women involved in sexual slavery shouldn't be ignored simply so you could go after the latest dope dealer, but she knew we had to go after him too," Harrington said. "She facilitated and pushed us to do it all."
Harrington found Paulose's "personal approach" to her job "refreshing."
"It's very easy to get focused on statistics and reports. But she never forgot our job is about the victims -- real people with real lives, people we were actually trying to get justice for."
"One of the striking things about her was she was not political," Harrington said.
"I've seen U.S. attorneys who were political creatures, whose agenda changed with the flavor of the month. What Rachel told you the first day about her passions and priorities was the same on her last day. They were great priorities for the public."
If Paulose was so effective, what explains her opponents' enmity? Stuart Goldbarg of St. Paul has an idea. Goldbarg -- who calls himself "a card-carrying John Edwards Democrat" -- is on the board of Adults Saving Kids, an anti-prostitution and anti-pornography organization in Minneapolis that has joined other such groups across the nation in sending a letter to Attorney General Michael Mukasey requesting that Paulose's expertise should be preserved in her new job in the Justice Department.
"When a new U.S. attorney takes office, you don't normally see a campaign mounted to target the person's reputation and make it impossible for that person to work," Goldbarg said. In an open letter circulated among organizations fighting human trafficking, he wrote, "If, in the long months following the first accusations against Ms. Paulose, no one in a position to know the facts has offered a single shred of pertinent evidence, we can safely assume that the entire whoop-de-do is merely professional jealousy, disruptive and wasteful office maneuvering, and low-down character assassination."
"I often asked Rachel, why don't you fight back, go on the offensive?" Harrington said. "She resisted my encouragement. It wasn't in her value system, she said. It wasn't how she saw her job and her mission. At the end of the day, she never deviated from what she believed was right."
How did Paulose get through her ordeal? She points to her faith, her family and her law enforcement partners, many of whom became her friends.
In addition, she says, "People came up to me all the time on the street, in the grocery store. It was humbling and moving. One woman grabbed my arm in the skyway and told me, 'You are a benefit to this state. We need you.'"
But now Paulose is gone.
Katherine Kersten • kkersten @startribune.com Join the conversation at my blog, Think Again, which can be found at www.startribune.com/thinkagain.