On May 17, reports suddenly surfaced that by the end of the week Rachael Rollins, U.S. attorney for the district of Massachusetts, would resign. She had been facing two separate ethics complaints and was being accused of lying under oath to the independent Office of Special Counsel and the Department of Justice’s inspector general. It was a shocking and abrupt conclusion—for now, at least—to a promising legal career, evoking instant rebukes from commentators, many of whom felt betrayed.
Yvonne Abraham, a senior columnist for Rollins’ hometown Boston Globe, recounted “the damage Rachael Rollins has done” in a scathing column outlining the key charges: 1) Attending a fundraising event with First Lady Jill Biden, despite being advised by the Justice Department not to do so and 2) leaking damaging investigatory details about Kevin Hayden, who was running for her previous position of Suffolk County District Attorney against her preferred candidate, Ricardo Arroyo.
In analyzing this deflating saga, Abraham did not mince words in detailing how unfit Rollins is for the job.
“Also, this is really, really bad,” she intoned. Yet Abraham still found a way to sneak in some digs at the supposed “grandstanding” critics like Senator Tom Cotton (R-Ark.) or Republican targets of ethics complaints like Representative George Santos and Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas. Absent from the column was any expression of contrition for her role in the media’s effort to smooth a path for Rollins’ remarkable rise.
Rollins in 2020 was embroiled in a dispute with four Massachusetts’ D.A.s who opposed her plan to raise the life sentencing restriction guidelines for youth suspects from the minimum age of 18 to 21. Responding to the conflict, Abraham outlined how they had overstepped their jurisdictions by intervening in a case in Rollins’ district where a 17 year-old convicted of homicide would be the test balloon for her proposal. The defendant’s guilt was not in question, and the change would have opened the door for other Massachusetts life-sentence convicts to be eligible for parole.
Abraham stated both sides of the case, however it became clear which side she favored: “Maybe it’s just a coincidence that the first Black woman DA is the target of their unprecedented attack. Maybe . . . As has happened before when her detractors have pressed their luck, sanity—and Rollins—has prevailed.”
The cases Abraham cited as victories for Rollins and “sanity” included the decision to drop charges against a Somali green card holder arrested and convicted of shoplifting—thereby jeopardizing his immigration status, and one where she decided not to charge a protester against the “Straight Pride Parade” for disorderly conduct. In both instances the presiding judges clashed with Rollins and voiced concerns that her office was either deceiving the judge as to prior rulings bearing upon the cases or ignoring Massachusetts victims rights laws.
There had been numerous red flags for the public regarding the unprofessional and legally questionable behavior Rollins would bring to the table, however it was Abraham, the Globe, and other national media that did the work to make sure few actually saw them. For example, there was no mention of when Rollins, in 2019, was working with a D.A. in neighboring Middlesex County to restrict ICE agents from arresting illegal aliens at courts during unrelated court appearances.
When asked about the possibility of her engaging in obstruction of justice, Rollins told NPR affiliate WBUR radio: “I am in no fear of being arrested, and very candidly if I am, it would be my honor to be, because we need to stand up and be very, very bold about this ridiculous behavior that our president [Trump] is engaging in right now.”
The media highlighted her comment as an example of a prosecutor using her powers for good. The ensuing court battle was settled in September 2020 when a federal appeals court ruled that neither the D.A.s nor U.S. District Court Judge Indira Talwani had the authority to restrict ICE’s activities. Notwithstanding these and other episodes like a road rage incident from 2020, in which Rollins impersonated a police officer, the national media joined their Boston colleagues as her cheerleaders when Joe Biden nominated Rollins for the U.S. attorney post in 2022, with the Washington Post profiling her as someone that Republicans fear for her bold reform efforts.
Politico documented the phalanx of Massachusetts officials including past and present governors, state attorneys general, and local law enforcement who voiced support for her nomination, which was the only one seriously challenged by the GOP. The Los Angeles Times editorial board published an op-ed that poured scorn on Senators Cotton Ted Cruz (R-Texas), and asserted that resistance to her nomination was grounded in racism given their previous opposition to minority Biden Justice Department appointees Kristen Clarke and Vanita Gupta. Her nomination deadlocked at the Senate Judiciary Committee 11-11 along party lines, but she prevailed at the full confirmation vote, with Vice President Kamala Harris breaking the tie.
In response, the Boston Globe hailed Rollins’ confirmation as “a very good day” and gushed over her making history as the first black woman to serve as U.S. Attorney for Massuchesetts. Now they are acting betrayed, with one columnist grumbling she “took the chalice of the U.S. attorney’s job and poisoned it herself.”
Many of Rollins’ former supporters would like to paint a picture of her as an anomaly, but she isn’t. Many American metro areas have leftist district attorneys, with the main attention lately being on funding provided to their election campaigns by activist billionaire George Soros.
Rollins was hardly the first to implement that model of nonprosecution of low-level crimes while adopting a confrontational approach to the police. Just as crucial to the rise of these progressive prosecutors was the dewy eyed and breathless media coverage, similar to what happened with Rachael Rollins:
- In 2014, Marilyn Mosby was elected as Baltimore state’s attorney, upsetting incumbent Gregg Bernstein in the Democratic primary. She achieved national attention the following year when she prosecuted six Baltimore police officers in the death of Freddie Gray, charging them with various charges including manslaughter and second degree murder. The Daily Beast fawned over her, claiming that as a black woman from a family of cops Mosby could be the “prosecutor who saves Baltimore.”
The Freddie Gray case resulted in either dropped charges or acquittals for all defendants and caused irreparable damage to the trust between the public and police and between the police and Mosby’s office. In 2018, while endorsing her primary opponent Ivan Bates, the Baltimore Sun editorial board nevertheless criticized her detractors by saying their criticism was owed to the “benefit of hindsight.” She nevertheless won that year and continued to serve until 2022 when she was ousted in a primary election while facing federal charges for defrauding the federal Paycheck Protection Program.
- As San Francisco District Attorney Chesa Boudin faced a recall election in 2022 over runaway street crime and vagrancy, the San Francisco Chronicle editorial board urged voters to vote “no,” because voters had “signed up for a four-year experiment” when they elected him in 2019. Voters disagreed and turned Boudin out, 55 percent to 44 percent.
- When Hillsborough County, Florida prosecutor Andrew Warren was sacked by Governor Ron DeSantis in August, Florida’s press flocked to condemn the governor, saying he was “not the King of Florida” and that voters had lost when DeSantis’ firing of Warren was upheld in federal court. Warren had vowed not to prosecute defendants in cases of illegal abortion procedures.
- St. Louis Circuit Attorney Kimberly Gardner was elected in 2016 and immediately spurred an exodus of lawyers from her office, with one-third of her trial attorneys leaving by July 2017. Gardner’s tenure was marked by total politicization, a prosecution of Missouri Gov. Eric Greitens for sexual assault that was dropped for lack of evidence, and record crime in St. Louis with the highest murder rate in the United States until being dethroned by New Orleans in 2022. She resigned in May 2016 after a prolonged battle with local and state officials urging her to do so.
- Los Angeles County District Attorney George Gascón has overseen spikes in crime during his entire tenure, including 11 percent last year. When a recall initiative against him was launched in 2022, the Los Angeles Times editorial board panned the effort as “destructive, distracting recall mania.”
Rollins’ case is notable not only for the sudden unraveling of her career, but the dim prospect that any change will come from her case. While she was caught red handed by the special counsel (not to be confused with similar attorneys appointed by the Justice Department) and inspector general, she will not be charged for lying under oath, or for using her office to manipulate an election race.
Fellow Massachusetts politicians are closing ranks. One published an op-ed arguing against “piling on [her] friend Rachael Rollins while she is down” and claiming that her failures were personal shortcomings that should not reflect on her policies as Suffolk D.A. that flouted federal law even before she was subsequently appointed as a U.S. attorney.
This instinct of the media to cover for the failings of leftist prosecutors should be at the front of the mind of any American caught in the crosshairs of these prosecutors in the years to come. Accountability works only one way, and it’s not in their favor.