Top federal prosecutor in Mass. abused power to influence local election, inspector general says
The top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts allegedly used her position to engineer, obtain and leak information to news organizations about a political rival who was running for local office, according to a report the Justice Department’s internal watchdog released Wednesday.
Rachael Rollins, who was appointed U.S. attorney in Massachusetts by President Biden, also is accused throughout the 155-page Justice Department inspector general report of repeatedly violating the Hatch Act, the federal law that limits the political activities in which federal officials can participate.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, the federal agency responsible for investigating violations of the Hatch Act, separately released a report Wednesday that found Rollins had engaged in prohibited activity. The agency said that Rollins’s attempt to “sabotage” a candidate’s political campaign was one of “the most egregious” violations of the statute it had ever investigated.
Her attorney said she will resign from her position by Friday.
The reports appear to shatter the reputation of one of the country’s most high-profile liberal prosecutors, whose appointment as U.S. attorney highlighted the nation’s often partisan and bitter divide on how to address crime in urban areas. Rollins, the first Black female U.S. attorney in Massachusetts, has been outspoken about her belief that the criminal justice system needs reform after decades of incarcerating too many people and too often failing to hold police officers accountable for misconduct.
“That a U.S. Attorney would release sensitive, non-public DOJ information and in other ways use her position to harm a candidate in a local election, amounted to a serious violation of public trust,” the Justice Department report says.
Rollins’s lawyer, however, called many of the allegations against her “minor.”
“I think the report needs to be put in context. The central truth is that she moved from being an elected official with virtually no restrictions on her activities to the highly-regulated environment of the US Attorney’s Office,” Michael R. Bromwich said in a statement. “Most of the allegations amount to minor process fouls. Though Ms. Rollins could have raised many facts and arguments in connection with these issues, she had no interest in litigating them any further. She believed the better course was to step down and end the matter before it overwhelmed her office and DOJ.”
The investigation into Rollins was triggered by her decision to attend a Democratic Party fundraiser featuring first lady Jill Biden in July. Local media reported her attendance, and Rollins responded on Twitter suggesting that she had “approval” to be there. Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department inspector general, subsequently opened the investigation to determine whether her attendance adhered to department policies.
The probe revealed Rollins was actually advised not to attend the fundraiser and instructed to only briefly meet the first lady outside the location of the event. Instead, “Rollins went inside the home, mingled with guests, and stood in the same receiving line as the other fundraiser guests to meet Dr. Biden.”
The scope of the investigation then broadened as the inspector general’s office received more allegations involving Rollins, including that she improperly accepted gifts, failed to comply with recusal decisions and broke government travel regulations.
According to the inspector general, Rollins also lied to officials during the investigation.
But the most egregious accusation lodged against Rollins, the report states, is her abuse of power to influence a local election for Suffolk County district attorney, the position Rollins held before becoming U.S. attorney.
Rollins allegedly tried to help her friend Ricardo Arroyo win his Democratic primary for district attorney in 2022, when he was running against the interim district attorney, Kevin Hayden.
Horowitz found that Rollins told the Boston Globe that Hayden had mishandled a police misconduct case that began while she was still district attorney. The Globe published a series of articles based on that information, without identifying Rollins as the source.
Rollins’s office then discussed whether the allegations in those news articles merited an investigation into Hayden. While her office did not open an investigation into Hayden before the primary, Rollins anonymously told the Boston Herald days before the election that the Justice Department was taking steps to investigate Hayden, Horowitz’s report says.
The Herald did not publish that article before the primary, which Hayden won.
Justice Department policy prohibits the intentional timing of any law enforcement action to affect an election, and typically has a traditional 60-day “blackout” period ahead of elections in which the department refrains from taking public steps that could be perceived as politically motivated and could affect the outcome of the case.
Rollins also lied to the inspector general’s office during an interview and said she was not the source for the Boston Herald article, despite text messages suggesting she was, the report says.
In December, the inspector general referred that alleged lie to the Justice Department, which declined to pursue a criminal case against the prosecutor.
Rollins and Arroyo are friends, and the report chronicles their hundreds of texts about the election.
A spokeswoman for Hayden said in a statement that the report from the inspector general’s office was “a comprehensive review of the conduct of one individual” and “requires no additional comment.”
Sens. Elizabeth Warren and Edward J. Markey, both Democrats of Massachusetts, said in a joint statement that the findings are “deeply troubling” and they agreed with Rollins’s decision to resign. “It’s powerfully important that public officials follow high ethical standards,” they said.
Both senators had supported Rollins through a bitter Senate confirmation battle that required Vice President Harris to deliver the tiebreaker vote. Republicans vowed to block her ascent, calling her “pro-criminal,” “radical” and “dangerous.” They used a procedural maneuver to delay the progress of her nomination, the first time such a step had been taken in nearly 30 years.
Republicans were particularly incensed by her policy of not prosecuting certain low-level, nonviolent offenses in most cases. Sen. Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) has said she is a “prosecutor in name only” who “consistently sides with criminals.” In an op-ed, Cotton wrote that confirming Rollins would increase drug trafficking and gang activity across New England.
Rollins has described the attacks as surreal.
“I have no problem being held accountable for things that I have done,” she said in an interview with The Washington Post in 2021. “I just want to operate in a world, generally, where things are factual.”
Devlin Barrett contributed to this report. Slater reported from Williamstown, Mass.