© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts Rachael Rollins talks to reporters shortly after taking office in Boston, Massachusetts, U.S., January 13, 2022. REUTERS/Brian Snyder
By Sarah N. Lynch and Nate Raymond
BOSTON (Reuters) – Massachusetts U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins (NYSE:) has hired a former Justice Department inspector general to defend her in a widening ethics investigation into her appearance at a political fundraiser and her travel.
Michael Bromwich, an attorney at Steptoe & Johnson LLP who served as the Justice Department’s top internal watchdog from 1994 to 1999, told Reuters he is representing Rollins in a wide-ranging ethics probe led by the department’s current inspector general, Michael Horowitz.
The probe was sparked by Rollins’ July appearance at a Democratic National Committee fundraiser and has since broadened to examine her travel and her use of her personal cellphone for official business, seven people familiar with the matter said.
“We are very troubled about the series of leaks that have been emerging from this investigation, some of them quite inaccurate in substance,” Bromwich said, but declined to elaborate further.
The nation’s 93 U.S. attorneys, who are appointed by the president and confirmed by the U.S. Senate, serve as the lead federal prosecutors in their regions.
The controversy has threatened to undermine Attorney General Merrick Garland’s vow to protect the Justice Department from partisan influence and efforts to extend progressive criminal justice policies championed by Rollins to the federal level.
Rollins is a proponent of the “progressive prosecutor” movement that supports eliminating racial disparities in the justice system.
Bromwich previously represented former FBI Deputy Director Andrew McCabe after he was fired during the Trump administration and Christine Blasey-Ford when she went before the Senate to accuse now-Supreme Court Justice Brett Kavanaugh of sexually assaulting her in high school.
A spokesperson for Rollins declined to comment. She has publicly acknowledged the probe in the past, telling reporters in December her “only regret” was that she did not want the prosecutors who work for her “distracted by what is happening with respect to me.”
It is unclear what the inspector general’s probe will find or when it will be completed.
A spokesperson for Horowitz’s office declined to comment, saying the office can neither confirm nor deny the existence of an investigation.
Rollins is the first Black woman to serve as the top federal prosecutor in Massachusetts, an office that in the past decade took on high-profile prosecutions including mobster James “Whitey” Bulger, the Boston Marathon bomber and a wide-ranging probe into wealthy parents’ use of bribery to secure their children’s admission into elite universities.
The inspector general’s investigation began at the urging of Republican Senator Tom Cotton after the Boston Herald in July photographed Rollins arriving in a government vehicle at a house in Andover, Massachusetts, where a DNC fundraiser was being held with First Lady Jill Biden.
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel, an independent government watchdog, in August launched a parallel probe into whether she violated the Hatch Act, which restricts political activity by federal government employees.
Following the DNC event, Garland issued a memo which banned political appointees including Rollins and the other 92 U.S. Attorneys from attending campaign events or fundraisers.
Previously, they had been permitted to attend in their personal capacities with department approval.
Investigators are also looking into a June 2022 trip Rollins took to California to speak on a panel at CAA Amplify, an annual business summit run by the Hollywood talent agency Creative Artists, two people familiar with the matter said.
Rollins’ travel was paid for by the group, in violation of Justice Department policy, and she later had to repay the organization, three people familiar with the matter said.
The probe is also looking into the leak to the Boston Herald newspaper of a Justice Department memo about Rollins’ recusal from an investigation of Kevin Hayden, Rollins’ successor as the Suffolk County district attorney, who during last year’s elections faced a challenge from a progressive police reform advocate, two people familiar with the matter said.
The identity of the source of the leak remains unknown. Hayden has not been charged and denies wrongdoing. James Borghesani, a spokesman for Hayden, said they have received no inquiries from the inspector general’s office.
Investigators are also looking at Rollins’ use of a personal cellphone, rather than her government-issued one, for Justice Department business, said two other people familiar with the matter.
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