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Watchdog details ethics breaches of resigning federal prosecutor

A new report says the Massachusetts U.S. attorney committed widespread ethical breaches during her tenure, including feeding information to a reporter to influence an election, later denying it under oath, and taking gifts and travel money without going through the proper channels.

BOSTON (CN) — Filling in the gaps for the announcement that the Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins would resign from office, the watchdog office at the Department of Justice released a blistering report Wednesday that says she leaked sensitive information to help an ally vying to for a district attorney posting and then lied about it under oath.

Rollins fed a Boston Herald reporter details about a potential corruption investigation into the interim district attorney for Suffolk County, which includes Boston, according to the 161-page report. Before President Joe Biden appointed her as the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, Rollins held the state-level district attorney post, and her office had been recused from any investigation. 

The leaked information could have been a boost Rollins’ preferred candidate, Ricardo Arroyo, who was at the time running against interim District Attorney Kevin Hayden in the September 2022 Democratic primary. Rollins also sent internal Justice Department letters to the same reporter and an associate editor regarding civil rights matters in the city of Everett. 

“Great tip!” the editor wrote to Rollins in a text message included in the report. 

“You know I got you,” Rollins replied. 

When the Justice Department’s oversight body asked if Rollins was the federal law enforcement source named in The Herald article about Hayden, Rollins denied it under oath, only copping to the leak after text messages showed her involvement. 

“Rollins’s actions fell short of the standards of professionalism, judgment, and impartiality that the Department should expect of a U.S. Attorney,” says the report from the Inspector General’s Office. 

It is extremely rare for ethics concerns to push the resignation of a U.S. attorney.

Rollins, the first Black woman to become U.S. attorney in the commonwealth, hired attorney Michael Bromwich, a former inspector general for the Justice Department. He disclosed that Rollins will submit her resignation letter to President Joe Biden by Friday.

In a statement Bromwich said his client was honored to have held her position but “understands that her presence has become a distraction.” He did not return a request on Wednesday for further comment. 

In addition to the leaks, the Justice Department dug into a litany of potential federal gift, travel and ethics rule violations. 

Investigators noted that Rollins also attended a fundraiser in July 2022 for the Democratic Party that featured first lady Jill Biden, without approval and contrary to ethics advice she received about attending the partisan event. 

“Based on Rollins’s own account of what she did after she arrived at the fundraiser location, 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.” 

While in office Rollins also solicited 30 free Boston Celtics tickets for players in a Springfield, Mass., youth basketball group, received 2 tickets herself, and enlisted a subordinate to plan the event. She twice took payments for travel expenses without advising her office and used her cellphone to text staff members about official business. 

The report also flags conduct that showed “poor judgment,” but fell short of a rules violation. For instance, Rollins called into a live local radio show to talk about a sentencing in a criminal case from which she was recused. The watchdog group did not find sufficient evidence, however, that Rollins knew she was recused. 

Along the same lines, the report slams as ill-advised that Rollins participated in a press conference about the leaked U.S. Supreme Court’s Dobbs decision, speaking alongside Democratic members of the commonwealth’s Congress. 

“Rollins did not knowingly violate department policy because Rollins did not know in advance that a member of Congress would be present at the event,” the report says. “Nevertheless, we found that Rollins exercised poor judgment by participating as the U.S. attorney in an event that concerned a highly-charged political issue, involving elected officials from only one political party, and that predictably included election-related speech from other speakers.” 

After she took federal office Rollins continued taking donations to her district attorney campaign, a matter that the inspector general referred to the Office of Special Counsel, since it involves a potential Hatch Act violation. 

In scathing conclusion, the inspector general notes that it sent a copy of Wednesday's 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.” 

“We found Rollins’s conduct described throughout this report violated federal regulations, numerous DOJ policies, her Ethics Agreement, and applicable law,” the report says, “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.” 

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Categories / Government, Law, National, Politics

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