Suffolk DA Rachael Rollins prepares to take over as Massachusetts U.S. attorney

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Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins speaks in June 2021. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)
Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins speaks in June 2021. (Jesse Costa/WBUR)

Suffolk County District Attorney Rachael Rollins expects to be sworn in as U.S. Attorney for Massachusetts after the first of the year.

The U.S. Senate narrowly confirmed Rollins to the post earlier this month after Vice President Kamala Harris broke a tie vote.

Some senators called her a "radical" who wants "to destroy the criminal justice system from within" over her policies to not prosecute some low level crimes. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell said "Rollins should be getting a pink slip, but instead President Biden is giving her a promotion."

Rollins tells WBUR that she has received several threats after the U.S. Senate debate over her confirmation.

Rollins also said that she is in talks with Gov. Charlie Baker's office over who he will name as her successor before an election is held nextyear. She said she is adamant that the governor choose someone who is aligned with her policies.

She joined WBUR's Morning Edition to discuss.

Interview Highlights

What did you think of the Senate debate over your confirmation?

"I don't think it was based in reality or facts, quite frankly. Boston, as the Boston police and the FBI know, is one of the very few major cities in the United States of America where violent crime is down and homicide is down. And I'm incredibly proud to work tirelessly with my law enforcement partners to make sure that during my three years as the chief law enforcement officer in Suffolk County, we have seen unprecedented downward trends."

How did the Senate debate affect you personally?

"That's in the past. What I intend to do is let my record speak for itself. But I am really proud. And Boston should be a gold standard for the rest of the country as to how law enforcement works hard to disrupt crime and to keep communities safe."

How are you going to approach the job as U.S. attorney differently than the position as district attorney?

"There are a lot of similarities in the job and a lot of differences. As the DA, I am an elected official and I report to no one but the voters. As the U.S. attorney, I am a presidential nominee. It's a presidential appointment, it's a hierarchy. There is autonomy in the role, but it is a different type. Two, is I now have a civil branch. We have a broad reach that is criminal and civil, and we are statewide, at the very least. So I'm excited about what the role is going to be, and we've inherited some really important cases. But moving forward, we're hopeful that we're going to continue the great work the office does, but maybe into some different areas."

After your Senate your confirmation, we spoke with your immediate predecessor, Andrew Lelling. He said he hopes that the U.S. Attorney's Office will will focus on synthetic drugs coming into the country. We also spoke with former U.S. attorney Carmen Ortiz. She said she hopes that there is a lot more attention on police conduct and police reform. What do you think of those comments and have you had a chance to even think about what your priorities might be?

"What I think a lot of people don't recognize is the U.S. Attorney's Office and the DAs' offices work together quite a bit in Massachusetts and synthetic drugs, opioids, are enormous priorities. We have 'Mass. and Cass' [the area near the intersection of Massachusetts Avenue and Melnea Cass Boulevard] in my jurisdiction, right? That is the epicenter of our opioid and substance use crisis and it's happening in Suffolk County every single day.

"I am so excited to have the knowledge as the former DA of Suffolk County and pretty soon as the U.S. attorney for the District of Massachusetts to be able to have the convening power to make sure that we bring the full weight of the federal government — not to harm the people that have a substance use disorder, but to bring the full weight of the federal government on the people preying on those individuals. And I've shared that I have loved ones, I have family members that I have seen on Mass. Ave. and Melnea Cass. So this is deeply personal to me. And I will bring the full weight of the federal government on the right people."

How do you think you'll handle marijuana cases with marijuana being legal here in the state, but not on the federal level?

"Such an important tension, right? When we think about three areas where you know, our local elected and our voters have made decisions:

  1. sanctuary cities — Boston is a sanctuary city. I am a DA who, with DA Ryan, sued ICE and got an injunction granted. As U.S. attorney, we have to defend the federal government when it's sued. That's going to be a tension about sanctuary cities.
  2. Marijuana is another area, of course, where our voters have made clear that not only medicinal but recreational marijuana in our commonwealth is lawful. But it is still a federal crime, and what I need to do is say, 'What is the will of the people of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts and what is the mandate, quite frankly, of the attorney general of the United States of America?' Now, with respect to synthetic drugs or opioids, we are hearing sadly that fentanyl is in marijuana now. That's different to me than bothering somebody who's listening to the 'Legend' album and smoking a joint. That's different than bringing in truckloads of marijuana with fentanyl in it. Where am I going to spend my time and resources as the federal chief law enforcement officer?
  3. The last tension is safe consumption or harm reduction facilities. Those are three really big tensions where I'm going to want to hear from Attorney General Merrick Garland, Deputy Attorney General Lisa Monaco, as well as the DEA and others about where are we focusing our most precious resources of the federal government to assist with the massive opioid and substance use issues we are seeing not only around the country, but certainly in the commonwealth of Massachusetts."

When will you leave the DA role?

"I have spoken with the governor. You know, there is a process where the governor offered individuals that were interested in the job the opportunity to apply, and we have had many, many conversations about those individuals. I leave it to him to give you those names. But I can tell you, look, this is deeply personal to me. Violent crime is down. And so are homicides. So by every marker, what we are doing works. I am deeply committed to the people of Suffolk County who put their faith in me to be a warrior — and I have been and I have the battle scars to prove it — that we are not going to have who Gov. Baker believes the right person should be for him. No, it is who is going to complete the work that Suffolk County wants. So it's very important to me that whoever is appointed is deeply aligned with what the people of Suffolk County want."

When will you officially take over as U.S. attorney?

"Sometime after the new year. I feel like this was not a smooth process. Unfortunately, sometimes the worst of people comes out. And as the first woman to ever have my job and as a woman of color and in particular a Black woman, there have been a very significant uptick in horrific gender-based and race-based hate threats that I'm receiving. I want to love up my family for a little bit, rest and get ready for this very important job."

This segment aired on December 21, 2021.


Deborah Becker Host/Reporter
Deborah Becker is a senior correspondent and host at WBUR. Her reporting focuses on mental health, criminal justice and education.



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