By Dan Kennedy • The press, politics, technology, culture and other passions

DOJ report on Rachael Rollins provides an inside look into journalistic sausage-making

Rachael Rollins. YouTube screen capture via Wikimedia Commons.

Earlier today the U.S. Department of Justice’s Office of the Inspector General issued a 155-page ethics report regarding U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins, who announced Tuesday that she would resign from her position.

Much of the report details Rollins’ alleged attempts to influence the 2022 Democratic primary in the Suffolk County district attorney’s race between her successor, interim DA Kevin Hayden, and his challenger, Boston City Councilor Ricardo Arroyo. Hayden, who had been appointed on an interim basis by then-Gov. Charlie Baker, defeated Arroyo and is now the elected DA.

The campaign was dominated by two major series of articles in The Boston Globe — one involving Hayden, who reportedly had slow-walked an investigation into serious problems with the MBTA Transit Police, the other pertaining to allegations of sexual assault brought against Arroyo. The Justice Department’s report details Rollins’ attempts to provide information to the Globe and the Boston Herald that would harm Hayden and help Arroyo.

The report is devastating in places, concluding that Rollins “knowingly and willfully made a false statement of material fact under oath when she testified on December 6 that she was not the federal law enforcement source cited in the Herald article and that she did know who the source was.” In that article, the Herald reported that Hayden could face a federal investigation stemming from the Transit Police matter.

Because the report provides a fascinating inside look at how the journalistic sausage is made, I’m reproducing the inspector general’s analysis of the evidence, which can be found on pp. 69-73. The report also includes mountains of information about the nature of Rollins’ contacts with the Globe and the Herald, which the Justice Department obtained voluntarily from Rollins’ cellphone. No journalists were asked for information, in accordance with Justice’s guidelines.


Based upon the facts described above, the OIG [Office of Inspector General] concluded that U.S. Attorney Rachael Rollins used her position as U.S. Attorney in an effort to influence the outcome of a partisan political election, namely the September 6, 2022 Democratic primary election that would select her likely successor as Suffolk D.A. We further found that Rollins took an active part in Ricardo Arroyo’s primary campaign for the Suffolk D.A. position in an effort to help Arroyo defeat Interim D.A. Kevin Hayden. We concluded that, despite her assertion otherwise, Rollins was very much trying to put her “finger on [the] scale” in the race for D.A., a race that certain local media reports suggested was a referendum on the policies and programs Rollins instituted during her own tenure as Suffolk D.A. — with Arroyo being seen as someone who was more supportive of, and likely to continue, her policies than Hayden. Even Arroyo, moments after he lost the primary election to Hayden, sent a message to Rollins stating that her “legacy work deserved better.”

Additionally, we determined that days after Hayden prevailed in the September 6 primary election, Rollins sought to damage Hayden’s reputation by leaking to the Herald Reporter non-public and sensitive DOJ [Department of Justice] information that suggested the possibility of a federal criminal investigation into Hayden, a matter from which Rollins was recused. Finally, we concluded that Rollins lacked candor during her OIG interview when discussing her communications with the Globe Reporter and with the Herald Reporter, and falsely testified under oath when she initially denied that she was the federal law enforcement source who provided non-public, sensitive DOJ information to the Herald Reporter about a possible Hayden criminal investigation. Rollins only admitted to being the source during subsequent testimony after Rollins produced, in response to the OIG’s requests, relevant text messages, which definitively showed that Rollins had indeed been a source for the reporter.

Documentary evidence demonstrated extensive campaign-related communications between Rollins and Arroyo in the weeks leading up to the primary election on September 6. The evidence shows that Rollins worked to advance Arroyo’s candidacy by giving him advice and direction on actions he should take and statements he should make to promote himself or damage Hayden. For example, before the Globe published a story on August 23 reporting that Arroyo had twice been accused of serious crimes in 2005 and 2007, Rollins assisted Arroyo in his attempts to address questions from the Globe, told Arroyo to have the Globe Reporter call her, and then, shortly after the story published, substantively edited Arroyo’s draft public statement about the allegations.

However, the evidence reflected that Rollins did far more than provide campaign advice and direction to Arroyo. In the weeks before the primary election, Rollins secretly fed negative information about Hayden to the Globe, some of which the Globe featured in an August 6, 2022 article critical of Hayden’s handling of a MBTA transit police misconduct case that began under Rollins’s tenure as D.A. and the understaffing of a special unit that was responsible for handling police misconduct cases. Among other things, Rollins also encouraged the Globe Reporter to keep digging for negative information about Hayden’s management of the Suffolk D.A.’s Office and suggested where he could look to potentially find it. Further, the evidence shows that before and after the Globe articles about Hayden in early August, Rollins and Arroyo updated each other about separate conversations they were having with the Globe.

The evidence demonstrated that by the middle of August, Rollins brought her efforts to advance Arroyo’s candidacy to the MA USAO [Massachusetts U.S. Attorney’s Office], when she used her position as U.S. Attorney, and information available to her as U.S. Attorney, in an ultimately unsuccessful effort to create the impression publicly, before the primary election, that DOJ was or would be investigating Hayden for public corruption. The evidence shows that, the same day Rollins received from the Law Professor his August 16 letter requesting that the MA USAO investigate the information in the August 6 Globe article (suggesting that Hayden and his First Assistant D.A. may have closed down the transit police misconduct case in exchange for $225 in campaign donations), Rollins went to EOUSA to obtain an office-wide recusal from the matter and then pushed her First Assistant U.S. Attorney to send the Law Professor an acknowledgment letter that would have disclosed her recusal from the matter and created the impression that DOJ was investigating Hayden. We believe her effort to convince her First Assistant to send such a letter is likely what Rollins was referring to when she told the Globe Reporter on August 19 that the MA USAO “may be issuing a brief statement” in the coming week about such an investigation. It was also likely at least one of the things she was referring to when she told Arroyo on August 22 that she was “working on something.” Indeed, among her suggested edits to Arroyo’s draft statement in response to the Globe’s August 23 story about the serious criminal allegations against Arroyo, Rollins told Arroyo to assert that Hayden was likely under investigation for “likely criminal behavior.”

After the First Assistant U.S. Attorney “backburner[ed]” her idea for an acknowledgement letter, Rollins took a more direct route toward publicizing a potential DOJ investigation of Hayden by disclosing non-public DOJ information directly to the Herald Reporter. Rollins’s first disclosure of information to the Herald occurred on September 2, 2022, 4 days before the primary election and nearly contemporaneously with her receipt of the Recusal Memorandum. Although Rollins’s testified that she did not recall why she texted the Herald Reporter on August 31, the same day that several public officials withdrew their endorsements of Arroyo, and, again, on September 1 requesting a discussion “off the record,” or what they talked about when they ultimately spoke on September 2, the evidence demonstrated that she conveyed to the Herald Reporter that DOJ was, or potentially would be, investigating Hayden concerning the possible quid pro quo reported in the Globe, and that the Law Professor had contacted her office about the matter. We drew this conclusion for several reasons. Within 40 minutes of Rollins’s phone conversation with the Herald Reporter on the evening of September 2, the Herald Reporter contacted the Law Professor—the two of whom, according to the Law Professor, had never had any prior contact—and told the Law Professor that he (the Herald Reporter) was aware that the Law Professor reached out to DOJ “about the Hayden/transit issue” and that he had heard that there “might be some movement on that.” Additionally, the next day, September 3, the Herald reached out to MA USAO and the Suffolk D.A.’s Office for comment on the existence of an investigation, advising the D.A.’s Office that the Herald had “information that there will be an investigation” into the decision not to prosecute the transit police officers and advising the MA USAO Executive Officer that it had a law enforcement source who said that DOJ was investigating Hayden. Rollins admitted to the OIG that she was the federal law enforcement source for the Herald article on September 11, which discussed a possible DOJ investigation into Hayden.

Both the Suffolk D.A.’s Office and MA USAO, in their pre-primary election communications with the Herald, encouraged the Herald to consider the motives of a source who was leaking information just days before an election, and the Herald ultimately did not run a story prior to the primary election about a possible DOJ investigation into Hayden. On election night, following Hayden’s defeat of Arroyo, Rollins sent an encrypted message to Arroyo that ominously concluded: “They are not above the law. He will regret the day he did this to you. Watch.”

Three days later, on September 9, Rollins was contacted by the Herald Reporter and later that same day texted the Herald Reporter photos of the September 1 Recusal Memorandum itself as evidence that DOJ was indeed “looking into this.” She also disclosed to the Herald Reporter that she had “reached out to DOJ” immediately after reading the August 6 Globe article, that a letter from the Law Professor “demanding” an investigation into Hayden and his First Assistant D.A. initiated the “moves toward a review,” and that “DOJ was fearful of weighing in and impacting the election.” Rollins told us that she took these actions and made these statements because the Herald Reporter had said to her that he had a source stating that DOJ had “declined to look into this matter” and she believed it was important for the Department to correct inaccurate information before it was published.

Although Rollins tried during her OIG interviews to minimize the significance of her active support for Arroyo’s campaign and her disclosures to the Globe and the Herald of derogatory information about Arroyo’s opponent in close proximity to the election—including non-public information about a potential DOJ investigation of him—her actions were extraordinary for any DOJ employee to have taken, let alone a U.S. Attorney. Indeed, as we describe below, we concluded that Rollins’s conduct not only violated numerous DOJ policies but also was fundamentally inconsistent with the Standards of Ethical Conduct for Employees of the Executive Branch.

Moreover, the evidence clearly shows that Rollins knew at the time of her disclosures that what she was doing was wrong. For example, after texting the Herald Reporter the Recusal Memorandum, Rollins asked the Herald Reporter to say in the story that the source “preferred to stay anonymous for fear of discipline or something like that.” Additionally, Rollins admitted during her OIG interview that her practice of sending documents to reporters by text message on her personal phone, as opposed to sending the documents from her DOJ email account, was because she wanted to hide the fact that she was doing so. Further, Rollins told us that one of the reasons she shared non-public DOJ information with the Herald Reporter was that she knew that the Department generally does not make public statements that they are investigating a matter or advise the public afterward that an investigation was conducted (unless public charges are brought).

We did not find credible Rollins’s explanation that she disclosed non-public information to the Herald to serve the Department’s and the general community’s interests. Rollins secretly provided the information to a reporter, requesting assurance that she would not be identified as the source, without consulting the U.S. Attorney’s Office responsible for the matter, and then misled her own staff about the disclosures. It is hard to imagine how the interests of either the Department or the public could have been served in this manner. And, in any case, Rollins was recused from the matter and, therefore, not authorized to decide what was good for the Department or the public. Indeed, given Rollins’s clear conflict of interest and political motivation for her actions, had she told the Herald that it could name her as the source of the information, the Department’s and MA USAO’s credibility would have been seriously harmed, not advanced.

We found instead that Rollins’s communications with Arroyo and with reporters overwhelmingly demonstrate that Rollins’s actions were motivated by her desire—well documented in her own text and encrypted messages—to help Arroyo defeat Hayden in the primary election and preserve her own legacy as D.A., and, when that effort failed, damage Hayden’s reputation. Indeed, within minutes of the Herald article first appearing online on the evening of September 11, Rollins sent Arroyo a link to the article, and Arroyo responded that he was “[a]bsolutely thrilled.”

That a U.S. Attorney would release sensitive, non-public DOJ information and in other ways use her position to harm a candidate in a local election, amounted to a serious violation of public trust. The fact that Rollins did not appear to grasp the seriousness of her actions during her OIG interview and, in particular, asserted that her disclosures to the Herald were not “extraordinary” or “a significant issue” were equally concerning and was a view not shared by career prosecutors in the MA USAO.

Moreover, as described below, we concluded that Rollins knowingly and willfully made a false statement of material fact under oath when she testified on December 6 that she was not the federal law enforcement source cited in the Herald article and that she did know who the source was. We further concluded that she lacked candor when she answered questions during her OIG interview about her communications with the Herald Reporter before the primary election and when she described how she first learned of the Globe’s interest in the transit police misconduct case.

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  1. Lex Alexander


  2. Extraordinary. (And as soon as I heard “trying to manipulate a race”, my thoughts immediately turned to the Suffolk DA’s race, which was all around toxic and mismanaged.) I also have to think that she was sloppy, arrogant, or both. Is there no way to delete at least the text messages?

  3. Frank Simmons

    So, the globe and herald both had stunning scoops – a sitting US attorney trying to sway a political race in violation of federal law – and both botched it. She successfully spun their experienced reporters and editors into publishing her damaging claims against Hayden – outright falsehoods, in the case of the herald. Among other things, it’s a textbook case of the hazards of anonymous sources: hide the source, hide the agenda. This one should be taught as an example of journalistic malpractice for many years to come. I wonder if the DOJ reports will bring about any soul searching for the two papers and their staff?

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