US attorney for Massachusetts committed 'egregious' ethics violations, watchdog finds

The U.S. attorney for Massachusetts leaked information to help her preferred candidate for the Suffolk County, Massachusetts, district attorney, among other "egregious" violations of DOJ policy, two government watchdogs announced Wednesday.

Rachael Rollins, the first African American U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts, announced her resignation Tuesday after being informed of the details that would be included in the Justice Department's Inspector General report. The investigation began amid reports she may have violated the Hatch Act by attending a political fundraiser with the first lady in July of last year.

She did violate the Hatch Act, the Inspector General found, but that merely scratches the surface of Rollins' alleged abuse of her position, according to the report. The Office of Special Counsel, which investigates Hatch Act violations called it "one of the most egregious Hatch Act violations that OSC has investigated."

MORE: DOJ watchdog finds 'serious' problems in handling of 'Whitey' Bulger prison transfer

Prior to being nominated to be U.S. Attorney, Rollins served as District Attorney for Suffolk County, which in Massachusetts is an elected position. She took extraordinary steps to ensure her preferred candidate to replace her would be elected, the IG found.

"Our investigation determined that Rollins, while serving as U.S. Attorney, assisted Ricardo Arroyo with his Democratic primary campaign for Suffolk D.A., providing him campaign advice and direction and coordinating with Arroyo on activities to help his campaign," the 161-page report says. "The evidence demonstrated that at a critical stage of the primary race, Rollins brought her efforts to advance Arroyo's candidacy to the [Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office], when she used her position as U.S. Attorney, and information available to her as U.S. Attorney, in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to create the impression publicly, before the primary election, that DOJ was or would be investigating [Arroyo's opponent, Kevin] Hayden for public corruption."

The former U.S. attorney tried to give non-public sensitive DOJ information to a Boston Herald reporter to further influence the election, and she talked extensively to a Boston Globe reporter about Arroyo's opponent and gave "off the record" tips to the reporter, who then wrote three critical stories about the opponent, the IG found.

Rollins not only violated department policy, but also potentially broke the law when misleading investigators about providing false statements to the IG about leaking the information to the Boston Herald reporter. The Inspector General made a referral of Rollins' misstatements to the department in December, but officials declined to prosecute only three weeks later. She communicated information to reporters using her personal phone -- also a violation of DOJ policy, per the report.

PHOTO: United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins is seen during a press conference held at Boston Police Headquarters, Feb. 6, 2023, in Boston. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images, FILE)
PHOTO: United States Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachael Rollins is seen during a press conference held at Boston Police Headquarters, Feb. 6, 2023, in Boston. (Jessica Rinaldi/The Boston Globe via Getty Images, FILE)

Rollins advised Arroyo on a myriad of issues and coordinated in some instances with Arroyo on certain campaign activities, even coordinating some U.S. attorney events to coincide with Arroyo's campaign events and Rollins, text messages purportedly show. More specifically, the IG found that Rollins tried "unsuccessfully to convince her First Assistant U.S. Attorney to issue a letter that would have created the impression that DOJ was investigating Hayden and, when that effort failed, disclosed non-public, sensitive DOJ information directly to a Herald reporter before the primary election." She lied when asked about it by investigators, according to the IG.

When Rollins sought the advice of the general counsel for the Executive Office for United States Attorneys on recusal because she recognized the appearance of a potential conflict of interest, she seemingly reluctantly agreed with his recommendation that she recuse herself.

"I don't like being recused from things, but ... if you think I need to be, I understand that," Rollins said she told the EOUSA general counsel, per the report.

Eventually, the Office of the Deputy Attorney General sent her a recusal memo which she then shared with the Boston Herald reporter as evidence there was a federal investigation into Hayden, the report said. Then, after the article came out on Sept. 11, 2022, Rollins allegedly texted her staff from her personal phone expressing apparent shock about the article, asking the questions, "Wtf!?!" and "When was the office contacted about this? And why wasn't I called? How are they quoting things?"

"Based upon the facts described above, the OIG concluded that U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins used her position as U.S. Attorney in an effort to influence the outcome of a partisan political election, namely the September 6, 2022 Democratic primary election that would select her likely successor as Suffolk D.A," the IG concluded. "Additionally, we determined that days after Hayden prevailed in the September 6 primary election, Rollins sought to damage Hayden's reputation by leaking to the Herald Reporter non-public and sensitive DOJ information that suggested the possibility of a federal criminal investigation into Hayden, a matter from which Rollins was recused."

Regarding the political fundraiser, Rollins went without the approval of the deputy attorney general and against the ethics advice she had received, the IG said. Initially, Rollins was supposed to leave the event with first lady Jill Biden once they had a brief meet and greet outside of the event, but that is not what happened, the IG found.

"Rollins went inside the home, mingled with the guests, and stood in the same receiving line as the other fundraiser guests to meet Dr. Biden," the report says. "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. She also posed for photos with the event hosts and guests, as well as a U.S. Senator, after meeting Dr. Biden and before leaving the event."

Other alleged violations included improperly using the office to obtain tickets to a Boston Celtics game for 30 children which she also attended and improperly used office resources for, according to the report. She also made improper statements about the leaked Dobbs vs. Jackson Women’s Health Organization ruling without getting approval from the Justice Department, and she continued to accept campaign contributions while serving as the U.S. Attorney in violation of department policy, the IG said.

Rollins' resignation will take effect at the end of the week.

US attorney for Massachusetts committed 'egregious' ethics violations, watchdog finds originally appeared on