By RICHARD SPRINGER
India-West Staff Reporter
In the wee hours of the morning as the final session of the 109th Congress concluded Dec. 9, the U.S. Senate took one final action – confirming the first South Asian woman ever named a U.S. Attorney heading a federal district in the United States.
Kerala-born Rachel Kunjummen Paulose is the 40th U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota and the first Asian American ever named to that post.
She becomes the federal government's chief law enforcement officer in Minnesota, with responsibility over all federal agencies, federal indictments and cases, and accountability for the Justice Department's federal prosecutors and support staff in Minnesota.
Nominated to the position by President George W. Bush, Paulose told India-West Jan. 9 that she and her family were up till nearly 3 a.m. Dec. 9 watching C-SPAN waiting to see if she would be confirmed before the sunset of the 109th Congress.
"It was the last item on the agenda and I felt so fortunate that by a unanimous vote it passed," she said.
The U.S. Attorney's position is Paulose's fourth time working with the U.S. Department of Justice.
She previously was senior counsel to U.S. Deputy Attorney General Paul J. McNulty, special counsel for health care fraud, and special assistant to U.S. Attorney General Alberto R. Gonzales. Paulose also was an assistant attorney in the U.S. Attorney's office in Minnesota from 1999-2002.
In a statement, she thanked Bush for giving her the opportunity and added she appreciated "the confidence placed in me by the United States Senate and my home-state senators: Senator Norm Coleman, a steadfast supporter; and Senator Mark Dayton, both of whom worked hard for my confirmation."
She explained in an interview that it was Coleman, as Minnesota's senior Republican in a GOP-majority Congress, who initially submitted her name as one of a handful of potential candidates for the post, which requires conformation by the U.S. Senate.
After background checks by the FBI ("I think this was my sixth"), the Justice Department selected her and forwarded the nomination to Congress.
She needed the support of Dayton, a Democrat who had decided not to run for reelection. Both U.S. senators gave their support and had "nice things" to say about her in the press.
Asked about her party affiliation, she said she is a registered Republican and has worked for GOP candidates, but said the appointment was a "decision based on politics."
She cited her work background and her lack of involvement in big-donor contributing and fundraising. "The (U.S. Attorney post) is a non-partisan office," she pointed out.
Paulose is the daughter of Lucy Paulose, president and chief executive officer of Home Electronic Specialists, and Joseph Paulose, an administrator with the Hopkins school systems in the Minneapolis suburb of Eagan.
Her maternal grandparents, Daniel and Sara Kunjummen, immigrated to the U.S. from Kerala in the 1960s, and raised their family in Minnesota. Her paternal grandparents, both deceased, also lived in Kerala.
Paulose told India-West that her father came to the U.S. from Kerala when she was about 10 days old and she followed him a few months later. While she grew up in Ohio, she frequently visited her grandparents in Minnesota and moved permanently to the state when she was about 17 years old.
In 1994, Paulose received a B.A. (summa cum laude) from the University of Minnesota, where she was a Truman Scholar and chair of the student representatives to the university's Board of Regents. She received a law degree from the Yale Law School, where she was a Coker Fellow.
Paulose began her legal career in 1997 as a law clerk for Chief Judge James B. Loken of the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Eighth Circuit, which has jurisdiction over federal appeals from Minnesota, Iowa, North Dakota, South Dakota, Nebraska, Missouri, and Arkansas.
While she was a federal prosecutor, she prosecuted cases related to violent crime, illegal drugs, economic crimes and civil rights enforcement. She also worked as a trial attorney in the Attorney General's Honors Program from 1998-1999.
From 2002-2005, Paulose worked in private practice for law firms including Williams & Connolly in Washington, D.C., focusing on business and health care litigation. W&C defended such high-profile clients as Oliver North and President Bill Clinton during his impeachment hearings.
She has served on the boards of the Yale Law School Fund, the Federal Bar Association, the National Asian Pacific American Bar Association, the Harry S. Truman Scholarship Foundation, and the Trust for Public Land.
Paulose told India-West that family issues, primarily illnesses involving some members of her family, led to her move back to the Minneapolis area.
She said the U.S. Attorney's office will focus on six areas: terrorism; economic crime, including fraud and public corruption; Internet crimes against children; gun and gang violence; drug trafficking; and civil rights, including human trafficking, immigration violations, and identity theft fraud.
Paulose jumped at the chance to expound on these priorities – mentioning that the Minnesota U.S. Attorney's office has two terrorism case pending, indicted three Minnesota city council members on corruption charges, and vigorously pursued a case of Internet pharmacy fraud totaling about $20 million in illegal sales. The defrauder faces a possible sentence of 20 years in prison.
Paulose pledges to keep the heat on child pornographers who, she said, are becoming "more graphic, more heinous and frankly appalling." She also emphasized her office's increasingly tough sentencing requests for weapons' offenses, with violent crime on the increase in the urban areas of Minnesota.
"We must protect all citizens, young and old, from the violence that threatens our way of life," she said in a statement. "We must hold everyone, particularly public officials, accountable for their actions. And we must ensure the civil rights of all people."
While she has already been informally sworn into office, Paulose plans a formal investiture ceremony in March. She is looking for a large enough location to accommodate "all of my relatives who are coming (to Minneapolis) from all over the United States."