“[O]ne of the most egregious Hatch Act violations that OSC has investigated”
Rachael Rollins, the U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts appointed by President Joe Biden, formally resigned on May 19, 2023. Her resignation followed a report from the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) that found her guilty of several ethical violations and misconduct.
While Hatch Act violations are not uncommon and often involve violations for which the offender may not have suspected or known were in violation of the law, this case involving the U.S. Attorney for the former District of Massachusetts stands out. The characterization of the violations as “egregious” by the Special Counsel appears justified due to the extreme nature of the violations.
The report accused Rollins of using her office to influence the 2022 election for her successor as the Suffolk, Massachusetts district attorney, lying to federal investigators, accepting free tickets to a Boston Celtics game, receiving political contributions after becoming U.S. attorney, and attending a Democratic Party fundraiser featuring first lady Jill Biden without proper approval.
Rollins’s lawyer, Michael Bromwich, said she would submit a resignation letter to President Biden by Friday and understood that her presence had become a distraction. She did and, on May 19, 2023, her resignation became official.
In a letter to President Biden, Rollins said it was an honor to receive his nomination in 2021 and thanked the president for his support during her “contentious confirmation process.”
Rollins was the first Black woman to serve as U.S. attorney for Massachusetts. She was previously the local district attorney in Boston, where she pursued a progressive policy of not prosecuting low-level crimes.
In a press release, OSC characterized the Hatch violations as “one of the most egregious Hatch Act violations that OSC has investigated.”
Rollins’s attorney defended her actions stating that “most of the allegations amount to minor process fouls.” He also said the investigative reports “need to be put in context,” noting she quickly transitioned from being a county prosecutor “to the highly-regulated environment of the U.S. attorney’s office.”
Leaking Non-public Information to Affect an Election
The OSC report concluded Rollins leaked information about her office’s recusal from a potential Department of Justice (DOJ) investigation of the candidate she opposed, incumbent district attorney Kevin Hayden.
On multiple occasions during the campaign, the candidate she supported (Richard Arroyo) raised with Rollins the possibility that her office announced an investigation of his political opponent.
Rollins made three attempts to surreptitiously disclose that DOJ might investigate Kevin Hayden for potential misconduct. Hayden defeated Arroyo in the Democratic primary.
While Mr. Hayden was still a candidate in the general election, Rollins sent a Boston Herald reporter pictures of a memorandum recusing her office from an investigation of Hayden. The Herald published an article disclosing the recusal and potential inquiry.
Attending a Political Party Fundraiser Honoring Jill Biden
According to the OSC report, Rollins also violated the Hatch Act by attending a Democratic National Committee (DNC) fundraiser in her official capacity as U.S. Attorney. Before the event, she was told repeatedly by DOJ and her own staff not to attend the fundraiser. The Hatch Act implications were so apparent a reporter asked if she was concerned her actions would violate this law. Ms. Rollins responded “no” and attended the event.
OSC noted in its report Rollins claimed that she did not attend the fundraiser. At the event she claimed not to attend, OSC noted pictures of her were taken with other attendees. OSC noted the pictures included:
…First Lady Dr. Jill Biden. Ms. Rollins also knew that Dr. Biden was in Andover (Masschusetts) for a fundraiser, and she knew that she was going to a DNC event—Ms. Rollins in fact personally spoke with a DNC official to confirm Ms. Rollins’s attendance. Thus, there is no merit to her contention that she did not attend the DNC fundraiser.Rollins Report of Prohibited Political Activity – 5/17/2023 (osc.gov)
The OSC report made this observation about the case:
The leak was an extraordinary breach of public trust by a senior government official, which threatens to erode confidence in the integrity of federal law enforcement actions. And her decision to attend a political party fundraiser in her official capacity as U.S. Attorney is directly contrary to one of the central purposes of the Hatch Act—to avoid even the appearance that the federal government is being used to promote a political party or its candidates. Ms. Rollins’s multiple knowing, willful, and serious violations unquestionably warrant disciplinary action.
Her resignation as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts precludes the possibility of disciplinary action.
Summary of Violations Found by Investigators
A report in Newsweek summarizes the major violations found to have been committed by Rachael Rollins in the investigations conducted by the Inspector General for the Department of Justice and the U.S. Office of Special Counsel:
- Sabotaging a Rival Campaign
- Lying Under Oath to Investigators
- Wading Into Partisan Political Races
- Receiving Campaign Funds When Already Elected
- Asking Celtics for Free Tickets