The Fall of Rachael Rollins
That she was elected Suffolk County district attorney was surprising enough, but then President Biden appointed her United States Attorney for Massachusetts. Rachael Rollins checked the Biden boxes and enjoyed a swift rise to the top of the prosecutorial mountain. Who would have expected that of a progressive prosecutor? Yet, there was she.
And then she fell.
BOSTON (AP) — Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins will resign following a monthslong investigation by the Justice Department’s inspector general into her appearance at a political fundraiser and other potential ethics issues, her attorney said Tuesday.
The Justice Department’s watchdog has yet to release its report detailing the findings of its investigation, but an attorney for Rollins told The Associated Press that she will be submitting a letter of resignation to President Joe Biden by close of business Friday.
The resignation of a U.S. attorney amid ethics concerns is an exceedingly rare phenomenon and is especially notable for a Justice Department that under Attorney General Merrick Garland has sought to restore a sense of normalcy and good governance following the turbulent four years of the Trump administration.
Rollins held the office for little over a year, so how much bad could she do?
So-called “progressive prosecutors” are having a rough time of it. Chesa Boudin got booted in San Francisco. Larry Krasner got impeached (but not removed from office) in Philadelphia. And now Rachael Rollins has resigned as U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts under a cloud of scandal, after the issuance of scathing reports about her from the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General (OIG) and the independent U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC).
The comparison to Boudin and Krasner may be correct as far as “rough times,” but seems otherwise flawed. Their problems stem from doing what they said they would do when elected (and re-elected, in Krasner’s case), and their “rough times” were primarily political backlash. But Rollins’ problems were of a very different nature, criminal and ethical.
The most serious allegation from Inspector General Michael Horowitz’s 161-page report is that Rollins “knowingly and willfully made a false statement of material fact during her OIG interview, in violation of 18 U.S.C. § 1001.”
She stuck her nose into the Suffolk County district attorney’s election to influence the outcome. She revealed confidential information to a journalist to smear a candidate. But mostly, she brazenly lied to the investigator’s faces.
Specifically, when asked if she was the anonymous federal law enforcement source for a Boston Herald article that contained damaging information about the political rival of an ally of hers, Rollins denied it emphatically, under oath: “No, no, no.” But nine days later, after OIG investigators obtained text messages showing that she was the source, she fessed up. Given how bald-faced her lying was,
Had this been anyone other than a United States Attorney, there would have been little doubt that it would result in prosecution. But not for Rollins.
Horowitz referred the false-statement allegation to the Justice Department for possible criminal prosecution—but luckily for Rollins, the DOJ declined to do so.
And this was atop the litany of other conduct during his brief resign as United States Attorney.
Lying under oath, while the most serious accusation leveled against Rollins, was not the only one. As noted by Law360, she also allegedly attended a Democratic National Committee fundraiser, which she was not allowed to do under the Hatch Act; leaked other confidential DOJ letters, in addition to the ones she lied about; accepted free Boston Celtics tickets for herself and a subordinate; spoke on live radio about a case she had been recused from; and accepted donations to her Suffolk District Attorney campaign account after she was sworn in as U.S. Attorney. Rollins didn’t become U.S. Attorney until January 2022, so it’s actually impressive that she managed to rack up this much alleged misconduct in such a short time. She should consider herself lucky to have escaped indictment.
Being a “progressive prosecutor” does not make one immune from otherwise doing wrong. But when one uses one’s prosecutorial office to pursue progressive goals, was she not concerned about the attention she drew?
Ms. Rollins has been a longtime supporter of changes in criminal justice policy intended to address racial disparities. Those include the sharp reduction of penalties for shoplifting, property crimes, drug possession and driving offenses.
That stance has, however, earned her the enmity of many conservatives, who have accused her of ignoring the rise in violent crime. All 50 Senate Republicans opposed her nomination in an evenly divided Senate when her confirmation came to a vote in late 2021.
Given that it seems obvious that she was a lightning rod for Republican attention, why did she not keep her nose clean? Why did she so flagrantly engage in conduct that was certain to make her a target? Why, oh why, did she flat out lie about it to federal investigators?
Rachael Rollins’ conduct could be dismissed as the usual hubris of people who reach high office and believe they aren’t subject to the same laws as the groundlings. But it’s hard to square her position toward defendants, racial disparities and mass incarceration with her being too self-important to be subject to the rules that apply to the little people. The “little people” were, purportedly, the people with whom she was most concerned, for whom she went out on a limb to support and protect. Well, some of them, anyway.
But there is another view that offers a better explanation for Rachael Rollins’ downfall. One inherent piece of the progressive prosectutors’ perspective is that there is a certain righteousness in disregarding, even violating, law. Legislatures enact laws for district attorneys to prosecute, and yet the progressive prosecutor serves as a Super-Legislator, prosecuting only those duly enacted laws with which she agrees. Other laws? Who cares? Laws only matter when she decides they do. That’s true for others. That’s true for her. And when it comes to the cause, laws shouldn’t stand in the way.
Massachusetts Democratic Sens. Ed Markey and Elizabeth Warren, who had pushed for Rollins to be nominated to the post, said in a joint statement that they will respect her decision to step down.
“Rachael Rollins has for years dedicated herself to the people of Massachusetts and equal justice under the law,” they said.
“Respect” her resignation in the face of litany of misconduct and call for prosecution is a curious reaction, even from Sen. Warren. As opposed to reject her resignation and demand she remain as United States Attorney because she checks all the right boxes?