Philadelphia US Attorney Jacqueline Romero allegedly retaliated against a federal prosecutor working in her office after he accepted a temporary detail to investigate and prosecute Hunter Biden, three sources exclusively told The Post in bombshell new allegations of Justice Department misconduct.
Romero allegedly told Assistant US Attorney Derek Hines last year that she was cool to the idea of him joining what was then a pre-indictment criminal investigation of the first son, 54, related to millions of dollars in foreign income.
Romero, who was nominated to her post by President Biden in the spring of 2022, mentioned she had a connection to the Biden family; noted Hunter’s late brother Beau, who died in 2015 of brain cancer, once worked in the office; and left little doubt that she believed Hunter shouldn’t face charges, according to the three sources, who were briefed by people with direct knowledge of the matter.
After Hines accepted the Hunter Biden detail, a move Romero ultimately did not block, the Philadelphia US Attorney’s office terminated Hines’ access to his downtown office building, typically gained through a badge known as a Personal Identity Verification (PIV) card, the three sources said.
A spokeswoman for Romero broadly denied the allegations — prompting The Post’s sources to suggest congressional hearings with all parties under oath.
Hines, 37, joined the team of Delaware US Attorney David Weiss alongside another outside prosecutor, Leo Wise, shortly before Weiss announced on June 20 a doomed plea deal in which Hunter Biden admitted to tax and gun crimes.
Federal prosecutors on detail typically retain their offices and building access because they are expected to return after their assignment and maintain a connection to casework and colleagues in the meantime, four former federal prosecutors told The Post.
Although Hines is technically still an employee of the Philadelphia US attorney’s office while on detail to Weiss, “he has to go up and sign in like any other visitor” if he were to come to the headquarters located next to historic Independence Hall, according to one current employee.
A different source said the situation was “absolutely symbolic of [Romero] being on a power trip and thinking she can get away with anything.”
Romero and her lieutenant, first Assistant US Attorney Nelson Thayer, co-lead the Philadelphia office and are considered partners on management decisions, sources said.
One source said that colleagues were told by Thayer that Hines was “banned” from the office. Another source said they had no knowledge of the purported utterance, but added that it wouldn’t surprise them.
A spokeswoman for Romero told The Post Monday night: “AUSA Thayer did not communicate to colleagues that AUSA Hines was ‘banned’ from the office.”
The alleged actions against Hines could portend long-term consequences for the prosecutor, whom sources described as apolitical and well-liked around the Philadelphia office — where he worked as deputy chief of the narcotics unit after transferring in 2020 from Baltimore.
A spokeswoman for Romero, who is considered a potential Biden judicial nominee, insisted Monday that Hines has not faced retaliation and would not experience it in the future.
“The representations about AUSA Hines’ detail are inaccurate. US Attorney Romero never discouraged Derek Hines from accepting the detail. In fact, she did support, authorize, and sign off on his detail,” the rep said in a statement, which notably did not address Hines’ building access.
“Members of this office had relationships with Beau Biden, as colleagues, friends, and supervisors, when he was an Assistant US Attorney here,” the statement added. “USA Romero does not have a relationship with the Biden family and didn’t express any view on the merits of the Hunter Biden investigation.”
The statement added: “AUSA Hines’ office was not taken away. It sits untouched, awaiting his return. When his detail is concluded, the office looks forward to him resuming his duties here as an Assistant US Attorney.”
One of The Post’s sources responded Monday that the fact Hines’ office has not been reassigned likely reflects that there’s excess office space — meaning there is no need to move someone else into it.
In fact, sources told The Post there is no shortage of space because many employees of the US Attorney’s office still work from home, nearly four full years after the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Hines referred a request for comment to a spokeswoman for the Wilmington, Del. US Attorney’s office, who declined to comment and did not challenge the sources’ allegations.
A NEW ANGLE FOR INVESTIGATIONS
The alleged retaliation is expected to be investigated by House panels leading an impeachment inquiry into the Biden family — which have the option of summoning participants in the events for under-oath depositions — and could be probed by others, such as the Justice Department’s widely respected inspector general Michael Horowitz.
The sources who spoke to The Post did not know details that could be unearthed by outside investigators, including the precise dates of Romero’s alleged warning to Hines and the alleged retaliation.
Another unresolved detail is whether Romero’s decision to sign the detail paperwork for Hines followed consultation with other Justice Department employees.
House Oversight Committee chairman James Comer (R-Ky.) told The Post that “the latest allegation that a Biden-appointed US attorney retaliated against an employee for accepting a detail to prosecute Hunter Biden is concerning and warrants further investigation.
“The House Committees on Oversight and Accountability, Judiciary, and Ways and Means will continue to investigate the Department of Justice’s misconduct in the Hunter Biden criminal investigation and will hold bad actors accountable,” Comer said.
The impeachment inquiry is multifaceted and has reviewed prior allegations of a DOJ coverup in the Hunter Biden case, including alleged actions within Weiss’ office to shield the first family and alleged false testimony to Congress by Attorney General Merrick Garland about Weiss’ ability to bring cases outside his district before he was elevated to special counsel in August of last year.
Romero was confirmed by the Senate via voice vote in June 2022.
A Justice Department biography describes Romero the first LGBT person and the first woman of color to hold the Philadelphia US Attorney position — distinguishing her as a potential future candidate for a lifetime nomination as a federal judge.
Romero joined the Philadelphia US attorney’s office as an assistant US attorney in 2006 — beginning roughly two years after Beau Biden, who worked there from 1995 to 2004, departed. During the final four years of Beau’s tenure, Romero worked as a lawyer at the Philadelphia Mint, about two blocks away.
Hines and Wise, whom Weiss also added to the Hunter Biden team last year, previously worked together on corruption prosecutions in Baltimore in the 2010s and infused new energy into the case against the first son, which was marred by allegations that prosecutors in Delaware were too deferential to the Bidens.
The pair replaced Lesley Wolf, the now-former assistant Delaware US attorney, whom two IRS agents have accused of repeatedly shielding Joe and Hunter Biden from routine investigative steps — including tipping off Hunter’s team to a planned search of a storage unit and a planned FBI interview approach.
Wolf also allegedly blocked witness questioning about Joe Biden’s role in foreign dealings even when the president was directly mentioned in communications and headed off attempts to get cellphone geolocation data that could have proven Hunter’s claim in a threatening text message to a Chinese government-linked business associate in July 2017 that he was “sitting here with my father.”
Wolf testified 79 times during a Dec. 14 deposition that she was “not authorized” by the Justice Department to discuss alleged malfeasance in the case.
Hines and Wise remain the top prosecutors working on the Hunter Biden case ahead of at least two trials expected later this year after Hunter walked away from what critics called a “sweetheart” plea deal in July — after demanding assurances of immunity for past conduct including alleged violations of the Foreign Agents Registration Act, which could implicate his father.
Wise, Hines’ colleague, declined to give the first son such assurances in court, prompting the deal to unravel as Hunter’s then-attorney Christopher Clark fumed “rip it up.”
The federal court records database PACER shows that Hines is currently one of just two federal trial attorneys — alongside Wise — prosecuting Hunter Biden in Los Angeles for allegedly failing to pay at least $1.4 million in taxes between 2016 and 2019 on foreign income. That trial is set to begin June 20.
Hines is one of three prosecutors listed for the pending federal gun case in Delaware. Critics, including Republicans and some legal experts, want the prosecutors to add additional charges for unregistered foreign lobbying.
‘NOT A GRAY AREA’
Four former federal prosecutors tell The Post that the allegations against Romero are serious and noted that it’s unusual for assistant US attorneys to lose access to their home-district office.
“Congress should be digging into it immediately and request a closed-door question and answer [session] so that you at least get to the bottom of whether or not she was running a protection effort for the Bidens,” said Brett Tolman, the US attorney in Utah during the George W. Bush administration.
“If you inject politics or personal sentiment into making decisions on who should be prosecuted, you should lose your position immediately,” said Tolman.
“That’s not a gray area — if you tell someone you don’t think a certain person should not be investigated and you don’t know the facts and you don’t know the law in terms of what they would be investigated for, you should lose your job.”
Steven Cook, a three-time past president of the National Association of Assistant U.S. Attorneys, said “it’s generally considered an honor to be requested to participate in a detail.”
“I can think of no legitimate reason to bar a career assistant US attorney from the office,” Cook said. “I can’t imagine why you would pull somebody’s access card.”
Cook worked for more than three decades as an assistant US attorney in the Eastern District of Tennessee and was detailed to the Justice Department’s Office of the Deputy Attorney General in Washington for two years — retaining access to his local office, where he continued to work occasionally.
“My experience has been that usually they leave the office for the person who is on detail,” he added.
Other former federal prosecutors with sensitive details have also retained their home office access.
Mark Lytle, a former assistant US attorney in the Eastern District of Virginia who represents IRS whistleblower Gary Shapley in the Biden impeachment inquiry, said: “If the allegations of political influence impacting a US attorney’s decision on a detail are true, that would be outrageous and likely a violation of ethics rules within the DOJ and any state bar the US attorney is a member of.”
Lytle said that he kept access to his office, badge and phone when he was put on detail to the White House counsel’s office from the Alexandria-based Virginia US attorney’s office.
“When you leave on detail, you are expected to make sure that your matters are covered,” Lytle said. “You’re expected to make sure there’s a smooth transition. You don’t just disappear.”
The former federal prosecutors said that there can be tension around details due to the fact that the home office often has to continue to bear the cost of a prosecutor’s salary, while some US attorneys are also reluctant to let go of subject-matter experts. But they said that either concern can be resolved in negotiations.
Ryan Patrick, the US attorney in Houston during the Trump administration, said, “There’s no situation like this that I could even fathom.”
Patrick said that in his former district, which extends nearly the entirety of Texas’ Gulf Coast between Louisiana to Mexico, it wasn’t unusual for prosecutors to work out of multiple offices.
Patrick, whose father is Texas Republican Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, added that he would recuse himself if his office had to make a decision about a politician with whom he was linked.
“If you’re going to retaliate against someone for making a move like this,” he said, “it just sort of screams a lack of professionalism.”