Bob McNaney, problem reporter: A case study

On Thursday evening KSTP Eyewitness News ran a hit piece (accessible here) on the March 9 investiture ceremony for my friend Rachel Paulose, Minnesota’s United States Attorney. I wrote about Rachel’s confirmation this past December in “After midnight” and about Rachel’s investiture in “Ms. Paulose moves into the gap.”
In her remarks at the investiture, Rachel paid tribute to the United States:

This day and my civic service are my very public expression of gratitude to the United States of America…As the grandchild of immigrants, I have a special appreciation for what America has represented over the course of our history.
From our nation’s birth, America has willingly undertaken the duty of preserving our freedom at home and defending it abroad. The prophet Ezekiel speaks of the search for a person of courage and integrity “who would…stand…in the gap on behalf of the land.” America is unique for its willingness to stand in the gap for the ideals that define our national character.
***
My grandfather arrived on American soil in the 1960’s and spent the next decade bringing over our family, many of whom are here today. One of the last to arrive was his eldest daughter, holding a baby during that journey. Today she was holding the Bible on which I took my oath, and we begin a new journey. We’ve come a long way together…and nothing means more to me than having you here to share this day so we collectively could say thank you for every opportunity we have been given in this country that so generously adopted us, and personally could say thank you for every sacrifice you endured so that I could grow up in a country where I would always be judged on the “content of my character.”

The investiture was structured as a tribute to the United States, with a color guard that showed the flag and a choir that sang the national anthem. (The color guard hung around after the event to get a picture taken with Senator Coleman. They were happy to be there.) Rachel’s family are immigrants from India. She is the first woman, the first Asian American and the youngest lawyer to hold the offfice of United States Attorney in Minnesota. Rachel wanted all those among her family, friends, mentors, colleagues and professional associates in groups such as the National Asian Pacific Bar Association who wanted to attend to be able to do so. She didn’t want to turn anyone away.
The investiture of the United States Attorney is a judicial function usually held in the courtroom of the Chief Judge (James Rosenbaum) of the United States District Court for the District of Minnesota, but Judge Rosenbaum’s courtroom could not accommodate the anticipated crowd. At the investiture of Judge Patrick Schiltz in the atrium of the University of St. Thomas Law School this past September (we wrote about it here), Rachel raised a question regarding the possible use of the atrium for her investiture with St. Thomas Distinguished Senior Fellow and former Assistant United States Attorney Hank Shea. Hank said he thought the Law School would be honored to host it and subsequently extended the offer.
The Law School routinely makes its facilities available gratis for judicial functions such as investitures and hearings. Rachel’s event fell into this category and the Law School offered the use of its atrium for her event without charge. Before accepting the offer, however, clearance was obtained from the Department of Justice to make sure that it entailed no issue of policy. Judge Schiltz’s investiture had taken place in the Law School atrium only this past September. There was no actual or apparent conflict in using the Law School space and the Department of Justice cleared it.
The KSTP hit piece is reported by Bob McNaney and introduced by news anchor Cyndy Brucato with the statement that the U.S. Attorney’s office has been in turmoil since Rachel was appointed last year, with five Assistant United States Attorneys having left the office over the past year. I assume McNaney is responsible for that statement, but it is both false and misleading.
Only three Assistant United States Attorneys have left since Rachel became United States Attorney a year ago, and two of them had their jobs lined up before she was appointed. One of them, coincidentally, was Hank Shea, who was leaving to join the University of St. Thomas Law School faculty and a take a fellowship at the University’s Holloran Center of Ethical Leadership in the Professions. Before joining St. Thomas, Hank was one of the most respected prosecutors in Minnesota.
The Minnesota United States Attorney’s office is a large office and staff turnover is par for the course. In the first full year of the tenure of Rachel’s immediate predecessor in office (Tom Heffelfinger, 2002), for example, five Assistant United States Attorneys resigned. The implication that there has been unusual turnover in the office in the year since Rachel has headed it is thus wrong, and the statement that five Assistants have left since she became U.S. Attorney inflates the correct number by 67 percent.
Hank Shea spoke at Rachel’s investiture and explained the Law School’s desire to host such events; he is also one of the “five” (read “three”) Assistant United States Attorneys who resigned. McNaney did not attend the investiture, so he may have missed the explanation. In his on-air report, McNaney elicits statements from Taxpayers League President David Strom and Citizens Against Government Waste vice president David Williams that use of the Law School’s facility creates the appearance of a conflict of interest. It’s hard to understand how that could be the case if the Law School makes its facility available gratis for court functions.
Ironically, the theme of the hit piece is that the investiture was too extravagant — that it cost too much. Yet as the story also reports, it only cost around $225 ($500 had been budgeted). The expense of the event was held down in part by the use of the University of St. Thomas Law School facility. But this is show business and, regardless of the facts, the show must go on.
I asked McNaney yesterday if he had attended the investiture. He hadn’t; he was out of town. He said he’d watched the entire event on film shot by the KSTP crew that covered it. I asked him if he knew who Hank Shea was. Hank was the first of the invited speakers at the investiture and, coincidentally, one of the “five” (read “three”) Assistant United States Attorneys who had left, supposedly because of Rachel. McNaney had no idea who Shea was. I asked him if he knew who any of the “five” (read “three”) Assistant United States Attorneys who had resigned since Rachel has headed the office were. He had no idea.
When McNaney requested an interview for the hit piece, he represented that the interview was to address the prosecutorial priorities of the office, a subject about which Rachel is passionate. The subject of the interview was confirmed by external relations director Jeanne Cooney at the time and on the day that McNaney showed up to conduct it.
In retrospect, you can see that this was an obvious pretext to interview Rachel about her investiture ceremony. KSTP has posted the entire interview at the link above. In the middle of the interview, McNaney starts asking her about the investiture based on a discarded planning document provided to him by a disgruntled employee. McNaney homes in on the document’s reference to “problem reporters.” When Rachel asks what this has to do with prosecutorial priorities, McNaney suggests that her investiture ceremony was an office priority. Pathetic.
I asked Rachel’s Democratic predecessor David Lillehaug, who is now in private practice at Fredrikson & Byron and who attended the investiture, if he saw any impropriety in it. David responded by email:

In response to your questions, I was pleased to attend USA Paulose’s investiture. I didn’t see any waste of taxpayer money. The number of people invited and the particulars of the ceremony are, it seems to me, a matter of individual choice rather than an issue of the public fisc. I wasn’t surprised to see a much larger audience than for my own investiture, for two reasons. This was the investiture of the first woman U.S. Attorney in the District’s history. Further, USA Paulose has a large, extended family, and it was wonderful to see so many of them attend. Finally, that the St. Thomas Law School provided its atrium without charge, as it does to other organizations, does not, in my judgment, create any conflict of interest, and I understand that the Department of Justice agreed.
David Lillehaug
U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota 1994-1998

C.J. is the Star Tribune gossip columnist. Unlike McNaney, she attended the investiture. She heard McNaney promoting his hit piece on the radio the day before the ceremony and came over to take a look for herself:

The U.S. attorney and her media person handed down an indictment, so to speak, for KSTP-TV reporter Bob McNaney.
McNaney was on FM107’s Margery & Ian Punnett’s program early Thursday flapping his gums about what sounded like an expos

Responses

Books to read from Power Line