Justice Department watchdog finds US attorney in Massachusetts tried to influence DA election
WASHINGTON (AP) — The top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts tried to use her position to influence the outcome of a race for Boston’s district attorney by leaking information aimed at sabotaging the campaign of her preferred candidate’s rival, the Justice Department’s internal watchdog said in a report released Wednesday.
A separate investigation by the U.S. Office of Special Counsel found multiple violations by U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins of a law that limits political activity by government workers.
The findings were disclosed a day after Rollins’ lawyer told The Associated Press she would resign this week, saying she “understands that her presence has become a distraction.”
The inspector general’s 161-page report alleges a broad array of misconduct by Rollins, who was praised by progressives for her approach to law enforcement when she was sworn into office in January 2022 after serving as district attorney for Suffolk County, which includes Boston.
It was the most scathing public condemnation in recent years of a U.S. attorney, a prestigious federal post that has occasionally served as a springboard to higher office, and detailed efforts to mislead Justice Department investigators during interviews.
The report said Rollins lied under oath to investigators by falsely claiming she was not the anonymous law enforcement source in a news article, before later admitting to it. In December, the inspector general’s office referred the allegation to the department for a possible prosecution for false statements, but officials declined prosecution, according to the report.
Special Counsel Henry Kerner, meanwhile, said in a letter to President Joe Biden that Rollins’ Hatch Act violations were among “most egregious transgressions” of the law that his agency had ever investigated.
The inspector general’s report accused Rollins of soliciting and accepting 30 free tickets to a Boston Celtics game for youth basketball players and accepting payment from a sports and entertainment agency for flights and a stay at a luxury resort.
Rollins also routinely used her personal cellphone for business, continued to accept contributions to her district attorney campaign account after becoming U.S. attorney and attended a political fundraiser featuring first lady Jill Biden, contrary to the advice Rollins was given and without proper Justice Department approval, the report said.
The watchdog said Rollins tried to meddle in last year’s race for Suffolk County district attorney by providing information to media suggesting then-acting District Attorney Kevin Hayden was under federal investigation. The report said the U.S. attorney also helped Hayden’s rival, Ricardo Arroyo, by “providing him campaign advice and direction and coordinating with Arroyo on activities to help his campaign.”
Rollins tried to persuade her top deputy to release a letter implying that the department was investigating Hayden, and when that failed, she leaked sensitive department information to the media in an effort to tank his candidacy, the report said. Then, after Arroyo lost the primary election, Rollins secretly gave The Boston Herald a memo detailing her office’s recusal from any possible investigation into Hayden, the report said.
After the newspaper ran a story about the memo she leaked, Rollins texted her deputy and other staff, saying “Wtf!?!” and ”How are they quoting things?” according to the report.
Kerner’s review described Rollins as a “de facto campaign advisor” to Arroyo. In one August 2022 message, Arroyo told Rollins that an announcement about an investigation into Hayden would be “the best thing I can have happen at this moment.” Rollins wrote: “Understood. Keep fighting and campaigning. I’m working on something.”
The AP was the first to report in November that the inspector general’s office had opened an investigation into Rollins over her appearance last July at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser. The AP reported that the probe had expanded to examine other issues, such as Rollins’ potential use of her personal cellphone for Justice Department business and a trip she took to California that was paid for by an outside group.
It’s an extraordinary rebuke of a top law enforcer who who twice needed Vice President Kamala Harris to cast a tiebreaking vote to be confirmed as U.S. attorney amid stiff Republican opposition. Rollins was the first woman of color to become a district attorney in Massachusetts and the first Black woman to serve as the U.S. attorney in Massachusetts.
“I’m deeply concerned by Ms. Rollins’s misconduct, as detailed in the Inspector General’s and Special Counsel’s reports, and support her immediate resignation,” said Democratic Sen. Dick Durbin of Illinois, chairman of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
It’s exceedingly rare for a U.S. attorney to resign amid ethics concerns, and Rollins’ move is an embarrassment for the Justice Department under Attorney General Merrick Garland, who pledged to restore its reputation for political independence after tumultuous years under Republican President Donald Trump.
The inspector general’s investigation began last year after Sen. Tom Cotton. R-Ark., who had tried to block her confirmation, urged the watchdog to examine whether Rollins’ appearance at the fundraiser at a home in Andover, Massachusetts, violated the Hatch Act.
Her lawyer, Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, said in his statement Tuesday that Rollins was “profoundly honored” to have served as U.S. attorney and “incredibly proud of all her office has accomplished during that limited time, especially in the areas of gun violence and civil rights.”
In response to a Boston Herald article from July raising questions about her appearance at the fundraiser, Rollins said in a tweet that she “had approval” to meet Jill Biden and that she left the event early to speak at two community events.” Rollins had been told she could meet the Biden outside the home before leaving, according to the report.
The inspector general’s office said Rollins tried to blame staff for not advising her to read an email with guidance for her meeting with Biden and called Rollins’ “efforts to blame her staff for her own ethics failures deeply disturbing.”
Rollins was elected Suffolk County District Attorney in 2018, defeating the candidate backed by the longtime incumbent and by police groups and becoming the Democratic nominee as part of a wave of progressive prosecutors.
Among the cases brought in Massachusetts under her tenure as U.S. attorney include the prosecution of Jack Teixeira, the Massachusetts National Guardsman accused of leaking highly classified military documents.
Durkin Richer reported from Boston.
This story has been corrected to reflect that Kevin Hayden was the acting Suffolk County district attorney, not the district attorney, at the time of last year’s primary election.