May 16, 2023 - Politics

US Attorney Rachael Rollins to step down amid ethics probe

United States Attorney Rachael Rollins for the District of Massachusetts holds a year-end review with reporters in her conference room. (Photo by Pat Greenhouse/The Boston Globe via Getty Images

US Attorney Rachael Rollins plans to step down this week amid a Department of Justice ethics probe, her attorney says.

Driving the news: Rollins, the first Black woman to lead the district, will send President Biden her resignation letter by the end of the day Friday, her attorney said in a statement to Axios.

  • The DOJ investigation results haven’t been released, but Rollins has faced scrutiny over her appearance last year at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser featuring first lady Jill Biden. The Hatch Act limits political activity for certain federal employees.

Why it matters: The Boston native’s resignation cuts short her historic tenure as US attorney at a time when Attorney General Merrick Garland has tried to restore the Justice Department's reputation of political independence after the Trump administration.

What they’re saying: “She is optimistic that the important work she started will continue but understands that her presence has become a distraction," Rollins’ attorney, Michael R. Bromwich, wrote in the statement 

Rollins made waves as Suffolk County District Attorney in reducing penalties for low-level crimes, at times drawing criticism from tough-on-crime opponents.

Zoom in: The DOJ’s inspector general’s office focused on Rollins' attendance at the Democratic National Committee event in July as well as her use of her personal cellphone to conduct official business, per GBH News.

  • At the time, US Attorney spokesperson Christina DiIorio-Sterling told the AP that Rollins is "fully cooperating with the OIG investigation” but did not answer specific questions.
  • A little under a year later, Bromwich says, “The work of the office and the Department of Justice is far too important to be overshadowed by anything else.”

Between the lines: Rollins is no stranger to controversy. Senate Republicans branded her a radical for promoting alternatives to incarceration for non-violent crimes and offering trauma-informed victim services.

  • Vice President Kamala Harris had to break the 50-50 vote, which fell along party lines, to proceed with Rollins' confirmation.
  • Rollins also faced scrutiny after an alleged road rage incident on Christmas Eve 2020 in Dorchester.
  • Both the Massachusetts Attorney General’s Office and the State Ethics Commission cleared Rollins after reviewing the matter.

Editor's note: This story has been updated with details throughout.

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