WASHINGTON- US Attorney Rachael Rollins of Massachusetts officially resigned on Friday after wide-ranging investigations by two federal regulators found she tried to use her position to influence a local election and lied to investigators.
In a letter to President Joe Biden obtained by The Associated Press, Rollins thanked the White House for its support during her controversial nomination process and said she wished the administration “good luck in the months and years to come.”
Her resignation comes two days after the release of damning reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general and another overseer, who laid out a litany of alleged misconduct by Massachusetts’ chief federal law enforcement officer.
The AP first reported Tuesday that Rollins was stepping down from the prestigious federal post that has occasionally served as a stepping stone to higher office. Her attorney, Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, said she “understands that her presence has become a distraction.”
The AP announced in November that the Justice Department’s inspector general had launched an ethics investigation into Rollins after she was photographed with First Lady Jill Biden at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser last July. The investigation quickly expanded to look into other issues, including the use of her personal cellphone for Justice Department business.
It’s a huge downfall for Rollins, who was praised by powerful Democrats when she was nominated for the post in 2021 and was seen as a rising progressive star. She served as a US attorney for just 16 months and was under a federal investigation for almost a year.
Less than two hours before she resigned, a judge ordered a member of the Massachusetts Air National Guard to remain behind bars while awaiting trial in one of the most high-profile cases the US Attorney’s Office in Massachusetts has filed in years. Jack Teixeira is accused of leaking top secret military documents.
Among those attending Teixeira’s court hearing on Friday was Rollins’ former deputy Josh Levy, who will now lead the firm as acting US attorney.
Rollins was the first black woman to be elected district attorney in Massachusetts and the first black woman to serve as a U.S. Attorney. She was elected district attorney for Suffolk County, which includes Boston, in 2018 on a promise to refuse prosecution for specific low-level crimes, drawing the ire of police and business groups.
She was vigorously backed by US Senators in Massachusetts and twice needed Vice President Kamala Harris to break a Senate tie to win confirmation as a US Attorney, despite fierce opposition from Republicans who viewed her progressive policies as a District Attorney as radical and labeled dangerous.
The allegations against Rollins are particularly striking because Attorney General Merrick Garland has stated that one of his top priorities is to ensure prosecutors’ political independence. After Rollins’ participation in the fundraiser became public, Garland banned political officials from attending fundraisers and other campaign events altogether.
The most startling allegation in the inspector general’s report – and another by the Office of Special Counsel – was that Rollins leaked information to the media last year in hopes of sabotaging the campaign of her successor as Suffolk County District Attorney, Kevin Hayden.
Investigators said Rollins attempted to interfere in the district attorney race by providing information to the media that suggested Hayden may be under a federal investigation. After Hayden defeated the candidate Rollins was supporting in the primary — Ricardo Arroyo — she leaked a memo to the Boston Herald detailing her office’s waiver of a possible investigation into Hayden, investigators found.
She initially denied being the federal source in the Herald story when questioned under oath by investigators, but later admitted to having been the whistleblower, the inspector general’s report said. The inspector general’s office referred the allegation to the Justice Department for possible prosecution for false statements, but officials declined to prosecute, the report said.
The special counsel also found multiple violations of the Hatch Act, a law restricting government employees from political activity. In a letter to Biden, Special Counsel Henry Kerner described it as one of the “most egregious” violations his agency has ever investigated.
Investigators said after Rollins received the Democratic National Committee fundraiser invitation, she received official advice that ethically she could hold a brief meeting with Jill Biden outside the home where the fundraiser was being held before she left. Instead, the report said Rollins went inside, stood in the reception line, and posed for photos with the hosts and other guests, including a US senator.
Rollins told investigators she didn’t know she wasn’t allowed inside the home. She believed that if she left before the formal fundraiser began, she would not be violating the Hatch Act, her attorney told the Special Counsels Office.
The inspector general also found that Rollins accepted payment of travel expenses for two separate trips without proper authorization and violated state record keeping by routinely using her personal cell phone to communicate with employees about Justice Department business.
The inspector general’s report also accused Rollins of violating ethics rules by asking young basketball players for 30 free tickets to an April 2022 Boston Celtics game. She also accepted a pair of free tickets to the game herself, writing to the Celtics rep who sent them: “Fantastic! Yes. Receive. Thank you very much!!!”
Richer reported from Worcester, Massachusetts.