If only she hadn’t gone inside.
Massachusetts US Attorney Rachael Rollins’s ill-fated decision to attend a Democratic party fund-raiser in Andover came after her reluctant staff, in consultation with the Justice Department, advised her to meet the featured guest, Jill Biden, outside before the event started, according to two government watchdog reports released this week.
The revelation that she attended the fund-raiser in July 2022 triggered investigations by the Justice Department’s Office of the Inspector General and the US Office of Special Counsel that ultimately led to Rollins’s resignation on Friday.
The two reports detailed a wide range of questionable conduct by Rollins, including a finding that she attempted to influence the 2022 election of her successor as Suffolk district attorney. They also offered details on how the whole saga began, the moment Rollins decided to attend the fund-raiser despite repeated warnings from her staff.
It was not the practice of previous Massachusetts US attorneys to go to political fund-raisers or even be aware of such invitations, the special counsel’s office said in its report. The office investigates violations of the Hatch Act, a law that restricts the political activities of federal employees.
Multiple employees told investigators that in the past, “an invitation for the U.S. Attorney to attend a political party fundraiser would have been summarily denied without telling the U.S. Attorney,” the counsel’s office said.
“One employee said that declining the invitation should have been ‘easy’ and that it was a ‘hard no,’ “ investigators wrote. “Another said that ‘in any world, in any district, under any other U.S. Attorney ... there’s no way we would have pitched it to a U.S. Attorney. We would have just said no.’ ”
But the employees told investigators that Rollins, who took office in January 2022, “became frustrated upon learning that [US attorney’s office] staff were declining invitations and speaking opportunities without first notifying her.”
“Thus, while there was a consensus among the involved [US attorney’s office] employees that Ms. Rollins could not accept the invitation, they nevertheless felt they had to tell her about it,” the report said.
The staff also felt that “Rollins regularly pushed back when told that she could not do something because of ethics rules” and they would come up with potential alternatives ahead of time. So when Rollins said she wanted to accept the July fund-raiser invitation, an employee suggested that Rollins “could meet with Dr. Biden outside the fundraiser venue.”
“We had concerns as public affairs professionals for her to go,” one employee told investigators, according to the inspector general’s report. “But we knew that she would likely want to attend. And by creative solutions, I mean how can we satisfy her interest in going without her actually going?”
The employee said she told Rollins “very clearly … multiple times” that it was the staff’s recommendation that Rollins not attend the event at all.
Rollins did not heed that advice but, according to the employee, agreed to an alternate plan for the July 14, 2022, event.
”We suggested that if she really wanted to greet [Biden], that she could do so by walking the 10 minutes through the Secret Service barricade to say hi to [Biden] outside of the event. We told her that she should not go in. She agreed to this plan, and acknowledged that she should not go in,” the employee wrote in an e-mail, according to the special counsel’s report.
On the same day, three days before the fund-raiser, staff reached out to the Executive Office for United States Attorneys in Washington, D.C., for advice, the inspector general said. An ethics adviser in the Boston office informed Washington that the planned meeting would be “outside the location of the event.”
“It would just be a brief meet-and-greet outdoors, and then the [U.S. Attorney] would leave,” the specialist wrote.
The following morning a message came back from Washington, saying, “We do not see an issue with USA Rollins simply meeting with the First Lady individually in a meet and greet type situation and then leaving after the meet and greet,” the inspector general’s report said.
The day before the event, Rollins appeared to be excited, writing in a text message to four employees about scheduling details, “I CAN GO TO THE DR JILL BIDEN EVENT!!!”
But the outdoor meeting her employees had envisioned never materialized.
On July 14, an employee drove Rollins in a government car to the fund-raiser. She arrived at about 4:40 p.m. She took a COVID-19 test outside the house, waited for results, and then “disregarding the Hatch Act advice she had received, went inside the DNC fundraiser,” the special counsel’s report said. Inside she greeted other attendees and was offered food and a beverage. She was escorted to a room where she took a picture with Biden and then with other attendees. She was there until 5:01 p.m.
The inspector general’s report offered more details from Rollins and the employee who drove her: People were asked to form a line, which Rollins called a “conveyor belt” or “cattle line,” to meet Biden. Rollins and her staffer were provided name cards, with Rollins’s incorrectly identifying her as “district attorney,” her previous job.
Rollins said that when she met Biden she was announced as “District Attorney Rachael Rollins,” and Rollins corrected, “I’m the United States Attorney,” the report said.
“According to Rollins, she shook Dr. Biden’s hand, they turned towards a photographer who took a photo, and then Rollins walked out of the room. Rollins estimated the entire exchange lasted 7 to 10 seconds. She told us that it did not appear ‘in any way’ that Dr. Biden knew Rollins would be there or even who Rollins was,” the report said.
Rollins said she and her employee “left before any speeches or remarks were made and estimated that they were inside the house ‘under 20 minutes total,’” while a host estimated they were there for 10 to 15 minutes, the report said.
Just before she went inside, Rollins had one last chance to avoid trouble, when a Boston Herald reporter asked her whether she was concerned that her presence at the event was a Hatch Act violation, the special counsel’s report said.
“Rollins responded ‘no’ and continued walking,” wrote the counsel’s office, which concluded Rollins had committed three separate Hatch Act violations by attending the fund-raiser.
That evening, the Herald posted a story on her attendance, setting in motion the chain of events that led to her resignation.
Martin Finucane can be reached at email@example.com.