Justice Department watchdog is investigating Mass’s US Attorney

WASHINGTON – The Inspector General of the Justice Department has launched an investigation Chief Attorney in Massachusettstriggered by US Attorney Rachel Rollins’ appearance at a political fundraiser with First Lady Jill Biden, The Associated Press has learned.

An investigation by the department’s internal watchdogs into one of the country’s 93 US attorneys — political appointments who rank among the most senior federal law enforcement officials — is highly unusual. The ethical concerns surrounding Rollins threaten to undermine Attorney General Merrick Garland’s efforts restore the Justice Department’s reputation for political independence after turbulent years under Republican President Donald Trump.

The inspector general’s office is focused on Rollins’ attendance at the Democratic National Committee event in July, as well as the use of her personal cellphone for official business, according to two people briefed on the investigation that has been ongoing for weeks.

Also under investigation is a trip Rollins made to California that was paid for by an outside group, they said. They were not authorized to discuss the ongoing investigation publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Anthony Coley, the department’s chief spokesman, declined to comment and referred all questions to the inspector general’s office. A spokeswoman for the inspector general, Michael Horowitz, said it was “the general practice of the office to neither confirm nor deny the existence of ongoing investigations.”

A Rollins spokeswoman, Christina DiLorio-Sterling, said Rollins is “fully cooperating with the OIG investigation.” Rollins declined to answer specific questions from the AP.

It is the second known federal investigation into Rollins less than a year into her tenure.

The Office of the Inspector General generally investigates allegations of fraud, abuse, or violations of other Department of Justice policies. Any decision on the fate of a US attorney – a Senate-approved post – would fall to President Joe Biden.

News agencies reported in August that the US Office of Special Counsel, another federal regulator, was investigating whether Rollins’ participation in the fundraiser against the Hatch Act, a law restricting the political activity of government employees. The investigations are in the early stages.

Rollins was a controversial choice to become Massachusetts’ top law enforcement agency, and she faced fierce opposition from Republicans in Congress for her progressive approach to crime. As District Attorney for Suffolk County, which includes Boston, Rollins drove ambitious changes in the criminal justice system, most notably, a policy of not prosecuting certain low-level crimes such as shoplifting.

The Senate Judiciary Committee was deadlocked before her nomination last year confirmed by a 51-50 party line votewhen Vice President Kamala Harris breaks the tie.

Rollins came under scrutiny after she was photographed in July arriving at a home in Andover, Massachusetts, where the DNC fundraiser with Jill Biden was taking place.

Sen. Tom Cotton, R-Ark., said her appearance was a “blatant violation” of the Hatch Act by someone “who is intended to appear as an impartial law enforcement official rather than a partisan politician.” He asked Horowitz to investigate.

said Rollins in a July tweet that she “had clearance” to meet the first lady and left the event early to speak at two community events.

According to a person familiar with discussions leading up to the event, Rollins was given limited permission to meet Jill Biden outside of the home. The person was not authorized to discuss the matter publicly and spoke on condition of anonymity.

Additionally, according to one of the people briefed on the investigation, investigators copied the phone contents of some employees in Rollin’s office to investigate Rollin’s use of her personal device for Justice Department business.

The use of a personal device — rather than a government-issued phone — by someone in Rollins’ position raises potential concerns about security and the preservation of public records.

Investigators have also asked about Rollins’ trip to California in June to speak at CAA Amplify, the annual gathering of entertainment, business and political figures hosted by one of Hollywood’s premier talent agencies, Creative Artists Agency. The group paid for Rollins’ travel, although Justice Department officials were not supposed to accept payment for travel. The department later ordered Rollins to pay the group back, people familiar with the investigation said.

Rollins’ appearance at the DNC fundraiser may have contributed to new political restrictions on Justice Department appointments.

Garland told department staff in August that political officials were no longer allowed to go to fundraisers and other campaign events. Such appointees, who are hired by the presidential administration rather than pursue long careers in the Justice Department, were permitted, with prior approval, to passively attend political events in their free time. The new policy prohibits participation altogether.

“It is critical that we adhere to the highest ethical standards to avoid even the appearance of political interference while fulfilling the department’s mission,” Garland said in a memo to employees.

Copyright 2022 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, transcribed or redistributed without permission.

https://www.local10.com/news/politics/2022/11/07/ap-sources-justice-dept-watchdog-probing-mass-us-attorney/ Justice Department watchdog is investigating Mass’s US Attorney

Sarah Y. Kim

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