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Massachusetts US Attorney Rachael Rollins formally resigns in wake of ethics probes

May 19, 2023, 2:27 PM | Updated: 5:12 pm

FILE - Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins addresses the media at the Moakley Federal Court...

FILE - Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins addresses the media at the Moakley Federal Courthouse, May 24, 2022, in Boston. Rollins formally resigned Friday, May 19, 2023, after wide-ranging investigations by two federal watchdog agencies found she sought to use her position to influence a local election and lied to investigators. (AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)
Credit: ASSOCIATED PRESS

(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

WASHINGTON (AP) — Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins formally resigned Friday after wide-ranging investigations by two federal watchdog agencies found she sought 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 supporting her during her contentious nomination process and said she wishes the administration “the best of luck in the months and years ahead.”

Her resignation comes two days after the release of scathing reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general and another watchdog outlined a litany of alleged misconduct by the top federal law enforcement officer in Massachusetts.

The AP first reported Tuesday that Rollins would be stepping down from the prestigious federal post that has occasionally served as a springboard to higher office. Her lawyer, Michael Bromwich, a former Justice Department inspector general, said she “understands that her presence has become a distraction.”

The AP revealed in November that the Justice Department’s inspector general had opened an ethics investigation into Rollins after she was photographed last July at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser featuring first lady Jill Biden. The probe quickly expanded to explore other issues, including her use of her personal cellphone for Justice Department business.

It’s a stunning downfall for Rollins, who was praised by powerful Democrats and seen as a rising progressive star when she was nominated for the post in 2021. She served as U.S. attorney for just 16 months and was under federal investigation for almost a year.

Less than two hours before her resignation, a judge ordered a Massachusetts Air National Guard member to remain behind bars while he awaits trial in one of the most high-profile cases the Massachusetts U.S. attorney’s office has brought in years. Jack Teixeira is charged with leaking highly classified military documents.

Among those who attended Teixeira’s court hearing Friday was Rollins’ former deputy Josh Levy, who will now lead the office as acting U.S. attorney.

Rollins was the first woman of color to be elected a district attorney in Massachusetts and the first Black woman to serve as the state’s U.S. attorney. She was elected district attorney for Suffolk County, which includes Boston, in 2018 on a promise to decline prosecution for certain low-level crimes, drawing the ire of police and business groups.

She was vigorously supported by Massachusetts’ U.S. senators and twice needed Vice President Kamala Harris to break a tie in the Senate to win confirmation as U.S. attorney amid stiff opposition from Republicans, who slammed her progressive policies as district attorney as radical and dangerous.

The allegations against Rollins are particularly striking because Attorney General Merrick Garland has said that one of his top priorities was to ensure prosecutors would be politically independent. After Rollins’ attendance at the fundraiser became public, Garland barred political appointees from attending fundraisers and other campaign events at all.

The most stunning 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 the hopes of sabotaging the campaign of her successor as Suffolk County district attorney, Kevin Hayden.

Investigators said Rollins tried to meddle in the district attorney race by providing information to the media that suggested Hayden was possibly under federal investigation. After Hayden beat the-candidate Rollins was supporting in the primary — Ricardo Arroyo — she leaked to The Boston Herald a memo detailing her office’s recusal from any possible investigation into Hayden, investigators found.

She initially denied being the federal source in the Herald story when asked under oath about it by investigators, but later admitted to being the leaker, 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 prosecution, according to the report.

The special counsel also found multiple violations of the Hatch Act, a law that limits political activity by government workers. Special Counsel Henry Kerner described them in a letter to Biden as among the “most egregious” transgressions his agency has ever investigated.

Investigators said that after Rollins got the invitation to the Democratic National Committee fundraiser, she got official advice that she could ethically do a brief meet and greet with Jill Biden outside the home where the fundraiser was held before leaving. Instead, the report said Rollins went inside, joined a receiving line and posed for photos with the hosts and other guests, including a U.S. senator.

Rollins told investigators she had not been aware she wasn’t supposed to go inside the home. She believed that as long as she left before the formal fundraising event began, she wouldn’t be violating the Hatch Act, her attorney told the Office of Special Counsel.

The inspector general also found that Rollins accepted payment for travel expenses for two different trips without proper approval and flouted federal record-keeping rules by routinely using her personal cellphone to communicate with staff about Justice Department business.

The inspector general’s report also accused Rollins of violating ethics rules by soliciting 30 free tickets to an April 2022 Boston Celtics game for youth basketball players. She also accepted a pair of free tickets to the game for herself, writing to the Celtics staffer who sent them: “Amazing! Yes. Received. Thank you!!!”

____

Richer reported from Worcester, Mass.

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Massachusetts US Attorney Rachael Rollins formally resigns in wake of ethics probes