Washington, DC – The U.S. Department of Justice’s (DOJ) Office of the Inspector General (OIG) launched an investigation into the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts after she appeared at a political fundraiser last summer to meet First Lady Jill Biden.
U.S. Attorney for the District of Massachusetts Rachel Rollins first came under scrutiny for her political activity after she was photographed in July at a Democratic National Committee political fundraiser featuring President Joe Biden’s wife at a home in Andover, Massachusetts, the Associated Press reported.
U.S. Senator Tom Cotton (R-Arkansas) called Rollins’ appearance at the political fundraising event a “blatant violation” of the Hatch Act by someone who is supposed to “act as a nonpartisan law enforcement official rather than as a partisan politician.”
Then Cotton asked Inspector General Michael Horowitz to investigate, according to the Associated Press.
Horowitz’s office said it was the office’s “general practice not to confirm or deny the existence of any ongoing investigation.”
But Christina DiIorio-Sterling, a spokesperson for Rollins, told the Associated Press that the U.S. attorney is “fully cooperating with the OIG investigation.”
Sources familiar with the investigation said that it has been underway for weeks already.
After she was publicly called on the carpet in July, Rollins tweeted that she “had approval” to meet Jill Biden and left the fundraiser early to speak at two other events.
A source familiar with discussions ahead of the event told the Associated Press that Rollins had been given permission to meet with the First Lady outside the home where the fundraiser was being held.
In a separate-but-related probe, investigators have copied the phone contents of some employees in Rollins’ office as part of an investigation into Rollins’ use of her personal cell phone for DOJ business.
Sources familiar with the investigation said that Rollins’ use of a personal device, rather than her DOJ-issued phone, raised security and public records retention concerns, the Associated Press reported.
Officials also questioned Rollins’ trip to speak at an annual gathering of entertainment, business and political figures in California in June.
The U.S. attorney’s trip was funded by Creative Artists Agency, a leading talent agency that sponsored the CAA Amplify event where Rollins was a keynote, the Associated Press reported.
DOJ employees cannot accept payments from travel and Rollins was later ordered to pay back CAA for her trip expenses, according to a source familiar with the investigation.
Experts said that Rollins’ public appearance at a DNC fundraiser last summer was part of the reason DOJ has created new political restrictions for its appointees, the Associated Press reported.
Attorney General Merrick Garland announced in August that political appointees couldn’t attend political fundraisers or other campaign events anymore.
In the past, political appointees had been allowed to attend those events passively on their own time with permission in advance, according to the Associated Press.
But Garland’s new policy has banned political appointees from attending those sorts of events altogether now.
“It is critical that we hold ourselves to the highest ethical standards to avoid even the appearance of political influence as we carry out the department’s mission,” the attorney general wrote in a memo explaining the new policy to DOJ employees.
U.S. Office of Special Counsel began investigating in August whether Rollins’ attendance at the Jill Biden event violated the Hatch Act, a federal law that prohibits political activity by government employees, the Associated Press reported.
Sources said the investigation is still in its early stages.
Rollins was a controversial appointment when she was confirmed.
When she was Suffolk County’s district attorney, she was widely criticized for her well-publicized “Charges to be Declined” list that included shoplifting, trespass, threats, and larceny under $250 will no longer be prosecuted, as well as disturbing the peace, disorderly conduct, and “minor driving offenses.”
She was appointed to the DOJ under the Biden administration, the Associated Press reported.