“Most of the allegations amount to minor process fouls,” wrote Rachael Rollins’ attorney Michael Bromwich, leader in the clubhouse for the flimsiest spin attempt of 2023. So what if the January 6 mob trampled the grass?
But at a moment when the focus is rightly on the former US Attorney’s non-minor transgressions, consider a broader question: what makes decent, smart politicians do indecent, stupid things?
One common denominator is an inflated sense of ends that justify the means.
David Nangle was a well-regarded, long-serving state rep from Lowell who pleaded guilty in 2021 to a buffet of financial crimes he fed his gambling habit with. Court documents described a meeting with the chair of the Office of Campaign and Political Finance to discuss his “liberal use” of his taxpayer-funded per-diem account, designed to cover nominal work expenses.
Nangle’s justification for thousands in highly-dubious spending: “If I go to CVS, see someone who needs help, then it’s on the job.”
According to letters submitted to the court at Nangle’s sentencing, he was in fact known as a go-to guy for needy constituents. Paving the way, it seemed, to justify theft as payback for being “on the job.”
It’s the type of bad judgment that seems to come easily for some otherwise good people.
For years before he became House Speaker in 2004, Sal DiMasi was a rising star in the Legislature, a community activist and former Suffolk County assistant district attorney who championed civil rights, universal health care and an upright moral code. “Do we want to usher in a casino culture – with rampant bankruptcies, crime and social ills – or do we want to create a better Massachusetts for all sectors of the society?” he asked during the 2007-2008 debate over gambling legalization.
Kickback culture was more welcome. Some of DiMasi’s bigtime business and lobbyist friends enjoyed wealth the Speaker could only dream of; he struggled to pay family debts while the rich came to him for favors, hat in hand. One minute you’re wondering how is that fair? The next, you’re resigning ahead of a prison term.
And sometimes money isn’t even a factor.
“Pride goeth before destruction,” it says in Proverbs, and House Speaker Tom Finneran was wicked proud of having been easily re-elected multiple times to his seat by a majority non-white constituency. Then voting rights activists cried racism over the Legislature’s 2000 redistricting plan. And an extremely pissed-off Finneran perjured himself with a string of snide, false answers under oath.
Even his prosecutors said Finneran was innocent of racist gerrymandering. And maybe there was a strain of Finneran-style bleep-you in Rachael Rollins’s indifference to Justice Department regulations. Let he or she who never chafes under the rules cast the first stone.
But rules that bar powerful prosecutors from playing politics and misusing their clout are not meant to be broken. And only Rollins can explain the reasoning that led her to think that didn’t apply.
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