Massachusetts US Attorney Rachael Rollins to resign after Justice Department watchdog probe

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins' attorney says she will resign after a monthslong ethics investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general into her appearance at a political fundraiser and other potential issues

Alanna Durkin Richer,Eric Tucker
Tuesday 16 May 2023 20:50 BST
Massachusetts US Attorney
Massachusetts US Attorney

Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins will resign after a monthslong ethics investigation by the Justice Department's inspector general into her appearance at a political fundraiser and other potential issues, her attorney said Tuesday.

The Justice Department's watchdog has yet to release its report detailing the findings of its investigation, but an attorney for Rollins told The Associated Press that she will be submitting a letter of resignation to President Joe Biden by close of business Friday.

“Rachael has been profoundly honored to serve as U.S. Attorney over the past 16 months and is incredibly proud of all her office has accomplished during that limited time, especially in the areas of gun violence and civil rights,” her attorney, former Justice Department Inspector General Michael Bromwich, said in a statement.

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

The resignation of a U.S. attorney amid ethics concerns is an exceedingly rare phenomenon and is especially notable for a Justice Department that under Attorney General Merrick Garland has sought to restore a sense of normalcy and good governance following the turbulent four years of the Trump administration.

Rollins was sworn in as Massachusetts’ top federal law enforcement officer in January 2022 after serving as the district attorney for Boston and surrounding communities.

Rollins was praised by progressives for her approach to law enforcement before she was elevated to the high-profile U.S. attorney job amid stiff Republican opposition. Vice President Kamala Harris twice had to cast a tie-breaking vote for her nomination to move forward.

The Associated Press was the first to report in November that the inspector general’s office had opened an investigation into Rollins over her appearance last year at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser featuring first lady Jill Biden.

People familiar with the investigation told the AP at the time that the probe had expanded into other areas, including Rollins’ use of her personal cellphone to conduct Justice Department business and a trip she took to California that was paid for by an outside group.

The inspector general’s office scrutiny into Rollins began after she was photographed last July arriving at a home in Andover, Massachusetts, where the DNC fundraiser with Jill Biden was held. That was according to two people briefed on the investigation, who spoke on the condition of anonymity because they were not authorized to discuss the probe.

The inspector general’s office generally investigates allegations of fraud, abuse or violation of other Justice Department policies.

Rollins said in a July tweet that she “had approval” to meet the first lady and left the event early to speak at two community events. One person familiar with discussions before that event told the AP that Rollins was only given limited permission to meet Jill Biden outside the home.

Rollins acknowledged the investigation during a December meeting with reporters, saying she doesn’t want her office to be “distracted” by the probe.

“I certainly think any time there’s an investigation into anyone — and I’ve been the chief law enforcement officer in two different roles — it impacts you for sure,” Rollins said at the time.

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, another federal watchdog agency, has also been investigating whether Rollins’ attendance at the fundraiser violated the Hatch Act, a law that limits political activity by government workers. The status of that investigation is unclear.

In addition to probing the fundraiser appearance, the inspector general’s office copied the phone contents of some employees in Rollins’ office as part of their probe into her possible use of her personal phone for Justice Department business, one person familiar with the matter told AP last year.

The inspector general also examined a trip Rollins took to California that was paid for by an outside group, even though Justice Department employees are not supposed to accept payments for travel. The trip was for CAA Amplify, the annual gathering of entertainment, business and political figures run by one of Hollywood’s leading talent agencies, the Creative Artists Agency.

After being nominated in 2021 to serve as Massachusetts’ top federal law enforcement officer, Rollins faced fierce pushback from Republicans, who painted her as a radical. As district attorney for Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Rollins pushed ambitious criminal justice changes, most notably a policy not to prosecute certain low-level crimes such as shoplifting.

The Senate Judiciary Committee deadlocked on her nomination before she was confirmed by the full Senate in 51-50 vote — with Harris breaking the tie.

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