Fed reports allege 'abuse of power' by prosecutor Rollins

U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins improperly attempted to influence the election to fill her former office by damaging the reputation of the candidate she opposed, failed to follow ethics guidance about attending a political fundraiser, and broke from official Department of Justice regulations on several other occasions, a pair of federal investigations concluded Wednesday.

The Department of Justice's Office of the Inspector General and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel each published bombshell reports about a range of alleged misconduct by Rollins, who one day earlier announced her plans to submit a resignation letter this week to President Joe Biden.

Both reports together paint the picture of a once-rising political and legal star who used her power to try and tilt electoral scales.

The Office of Special Counsel concluded that Rollins violated the Hatch Act, which limits political activities by certain federal employees, in at least two different instances and in doing so "committed an extraordinary abuse of her power as U.S. Attorney."

"Ms. Rollins's abuse of her power within the federal justice system to achieve a political goal epitomizes the type of 'political justice' that Congress intended to prohibit," OSC wrote. "There are no mitigating factors that would warrant an outcome short of disciplinary action."

Special Counsel Henry Kerner told President Biden in a memo alongside the OSC report that Rollins's resignation "would foreclose the possibility of any disciplinary action."

[Reports: DOJ Inspector General | Office of Special Counsel]

Rollins's attorney, Michael Bromvich, did not respond to a request for comment Wednesday.

In responses submitted to federal investigators, Rollins largely defended herself. She said her involvement in the Democratic primary race for Suffolk County District Attorney was merely counseling a friend, not "putting [her] finger on a scale," and that she thought she was following appropriate guidance around her visit to a July 2022 Democratic National Committee fundraiser.

"We feel compelled to note the irony that the investigation into the potential violation of the Hatch Act by Ms. Rollins was publicly demanded by Senator Tom Cotton (R-AR), a strong supporter of former President Donald J. Trump," Bromvich wrote in a response to the Office of Special Counsel. "The Trump Administration was populated by several high-ranking officials who openly, routinely, and defiantly violated the Hatch Act with no consequences."

Cotton, of Arkansas, was one of the most vocal opponents of Rollins during her tense confirmation process. He praised the new report. "I warned Rachael Rollins was unfit to serve as a U.S. Attorney. Now she's resigning in disgrace," Cotton tweeted on Wednesday. "Good riddance."

"One of the Most Egregious Hatch Act Violations"

Although her role as the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts required her to remain impartial, investigators found that Rollins made significant effort to impact the scorched-earth primary race between Kevin Hayden and Ricardo Arroyo to succeed her as Suffolk County district attorney.

The DOJ Inspector General's report said that local media portrayed that September 2022 contest as a referendum of sorts on the progressive prosecutor approach Rollins deployed when she led the office, with Arroyo "seen as someone who was more supportive of, and likely to continue, her policies than Hayden."

Investigators found that Rollins regularly communicated with Arroyo in private calls and text messages, voicing support for him, offering feedback on how to respond to reporting about previous sexual assault allegations against Arroyo that had resurfaced, and sharply criticizing Hayden.

"He is a bafoon [sic]," Rollins wrote about Hayden, whom Republican Gov. Charlie Baker appointed on an interim basis, in one text message quoted by the OIG report. "Keep fighting and campaigning. I'm working on something," she texted Arroyo another time.

Both federal probes concluded that Rollins communicated on multiple occasions with reporters for the Boston Globe and the Boston Herald about campaign-season coverage that raised significant questions regarding Hayden's interim tenure. The interactions centered on a series of articles about Hayden's alleged slow-walking of an investigation Rollins previously launched into a transit police officer who allegedly brandished a gun during a traffic dispute.

When a law professor known to Rollins urged the U.S. attorney's office to investigate, Rollins asked a deputy to write a letter in response, but the deputy was concerned that any such action might suggest federal prosecutors were investigating potential corruption by Hayden, according to the OIG report.

After Hayden defeated Arroyo in the primary election, both reports said, Rollins texted to a Herald reporter images of an internal recusal memo that instructed her not to get involved with any potential federal investigation into Hayden.

By leaking a non-public document that made reference to the prospect of a potential investigation -- even though the U.S. Attorney's office at that time did not have an investigation into Hayden open -- Rollins's actions served to "plant a story" that a candidate she opposed was facing a federal probe, the reports said.

"This latter violation, in particular, is one of the most egregious Hatch Act violations that OSC has investigated," the office wrote.

The IG's report said Rollins texted her deputies in the U.S. attorney's office "within minutes" of the Herald publishing its article expressing shock and obscuring the fact that she personally provided the reporter with the information. "Wtf!?!" she wrote, according to the report. "When was the office contacted about this? And why wasn't I called? How are they quoting things?"

Investigators with the inspector general's office also said Rollins "knowingly and willfully made a false statement of material fact under oath" about her involvement with release of the non-public document to the Herald.

At first, she denied being the "federal law-enforcement source" mentioned in the article or providing the document, and admitted to doing so more than a week later after the OIG produced text messages between the reporter and Rollins in which she sent the memo, the report said.

"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 report said. "The fact that Rollins did not appear to grasp the seriousness of her actions during her OIG interview and, in particular, asserted that her disclosures to the Herald were not 'extraordinary' or 'a significant issue' were equally concerning and was a view not shared by career prosecutors in the [Massachusetts U.S. attorney's office]."

Via a spokesperson, Hayden offered a muted reaction Wednesday.

"The report by the Office of the Inspector General presents a comprehensive review of the conduct of one individual and requires no additional comment from us," said Hayden spokesperson James Borghesani. "However, we do want to emphasize that the report in no way impacts the strong and professional relationship we enjoy with the Office of the United States Attorney in Boston."

A Meet-and-Greet Gone Wrong

The second major Hatch Act violation OSC alleged deals with Rollins's attendance at a July 2022 Democratic National Committee fundraiser, headlined by First Lady Dr. Jill Biden.

Rollins was photographed walking into the event at a private home in Andover, where she said at the time she was not concerned about a Hatch Act violation, according to the Herald.

DOJ policy at the time required U.S. attorneys and other "non-career" employees to receive prior approval from the deputy attorney general or their designee to attend a political fundraiser, according to the OIG report, which said Rollins never took such a step.

Employees in Rollins's office told the inspector general's investigators that they had received an invitation for the fundraiser and wanted to decline or disregard it because of the potential optical issues, but felt they needed to find "creative solutions" because they expected Rollins herself would want to attend.

Federal ethics reviewers later told Rollins's office they would not "see an issue" with the U.S. attorney meeting Dr. Biden so long as it took place outside the venue and Rollins left after the meet-and-greet.

On the day of the event, however, Rollins entered the home, made small talk with attendees, got a spot at the front of the receiving line to pose for a photo with Dr. Biden, and then stood for additional pictures with U.S. Sen. Ed Markey -- a Democrat who defended Rollins during her rocky confirmation process -- before departing, according to the reports.

Responding to a Herald article about her involvement, Rollins later said on Twitter that she had received "approval" to attend the event.

The OIG report said federal ethics officials were "surprised" to learn about the sequence of events, "which they said was not consistent with their advice or how they envisioned the meet and greet when they gave their advice."

"Rollins's interaction with Dr. Biden was identical to those of the other fundraiser guests whose primary purpose for being at the event was to get in line and meet Dr. Biden," the report said. "Accordingly, we concluded that Rollins violated Department policy by attending a partisan political fundraiser without obtaining approval from the Deputy Attorney General or her designee."

In a response to the OSC report, Rollins's attorney said she did not deliver remarks, pledge any money or discuss legislation at the fundraiser. "The admonition that the meet-and-greet with the First Lady should take place outside the residence where the fundraising event was to take place was, to our knowledge, mentioned once at the end of a lengthy email chain," Bromvich wrote.

The inspector general's report said Rollins was frustrated her staff did not advise her to more closely read the email with that advice and would have complied with it if she had been told.

"We found Rollins's efforts to blame her staff for her own ethics failures deeply disturbing," the OIG report said.

Onetime Friendly Faces Grow Quiet

The inspector general's report also highlighted potential issues with Rollins's solicitation of Boston Celtics tickets and her acceptance of travel to California and New York panels paid for by event organizers.

"We found Rollins's conduct described throughout this report violated federal regulations, numerous DOJ policies, her Ethics Agreement, and applicable law, and fell far short of the standards of professionalism and judgment that the Department should expect of any employee, much less a U.S. Attorney," the report concluded. "We have provided a copy of this report to the Office of the Deputy Attorney General, the Executive Office for United States Attorneys, and the Professional Misconduct Review Unit for any action they deem appropriate."

Rollins announced Tuesday that she plans to resign by the end of the week.

"She is optimistic that the important work she started will continue but understands that her presence has become a distraction," Bromwich said at the time. "The work of the office and the Department of Justice is far too important to be overshadowed by anything else."

Her departure is sudden and comes less than a year and a half into her tenure as U.S. attorney, which began with a tiebreaking confirmation vote from Vice President Kamala Harris after significant opposition from Republicans.

Gov. Maura Healey, who as attorney general endorsed Rollins in the 2018 general election after she topped the Democratic primary, declined to comment on the report early Wednesday afternoon.

Healey said she hadn't yet read the new documents, and had no indication during her time as attorney general that Rollins might have been influencing the Suffolk County district attorney's race.

"I think the important thing for people to know is that the U.S. Attorney's Office is strong," Healey told reporters at the State House. "There are so many great people who are working in that office, who have worked in that office, and I know the good work of that office will continue."

[Alison Kuznitz contributed reporting.]

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