Survivor: A low-profile prosecutor weathers political storms

Published: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 1:42 AM
Updated: Friday, February 09, 2018 @ 1:42 AM


            FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2012 file photo, Dana Boente, then First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, speaks outside federal court in Alexandria, Va. Boenete, an understated career federal prosecutor, has found himself at the epicenter of several of the Trump administration’s biggest controversies. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)
FILE - In this Jan. 26, 2012 file photo, Dana Boente, then First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia, speaks outside federal court in Alexandria, Va. Boenete, an understated career federal prosecutor, has found himself at the epicenter of several of the Trump administration’s biggest controversies. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci, File)

When President Donald Trump fired the acting attorney general last year for refusing to defend his controversial travel ban, Dana Boente stepped into the job.

When Trump abruptly ousted dozens of Obama-era federal prosecutors, Boente was tasked with letting them know.

And when Republicans released a politically explosive memo last week on the monitoring of a Trump campaign adviser, Boente was revealed as one of the officials who signed off on the surveillance.

The unassuming career federal prosecutor keeps finding himself in the middle of Trump's political storms. But while some relatively obscure Justice Department veterans have sparked Republican rage for their roles in high-profile investigations, Boente has thus far emerged largely unscathed.

In fact, his profile continues to rise. FBI Director Christopher Wray recently chose him as general counsel, plunging him into the bureau's inner machinations during an especially tumultuous time.

It is the latest role for the Obama administration holdover once described by former Attorney General Loretta Lynch as the "consummate utility player." His willingness to pinch hit for the Trump administration has briefly landed him in some of the most influential posts in U.S. government, including acting attorney general and head of the Justice Department's national security division.

Boente was serving as deputy attorney general before Rod Rosenstein's confirmation in April when he approved an application to extend a surveillance warrant allowing officials to monitor the communications of Trump campaign adviser Carter Page. That detail was revealed last week in the hotly disputed GOP memo on the Russia investigation, the latest of a growing list of Republican grievances against the FBI and Justice Department.

The memo prompted conservative groups to call for the resignation of Rosenstein, whom Trump had also denounced in tweets. Republican rancor has intensified over months and some Justice Department officials have been fired, reassigned or otherwise departed amid the uproar. Among those under fire: Boente's predecessor as general counsel, James Baker, who was the subject of an angry Trump tweet after he was moved out of the position, which doesn't usually garner much public attention.

Boente hasn't escaped criticism completely. He was among officials slammed by Fox News host Sean Hannity for his role in the Page warrant, and a conservative website has suggested he may have to resign. And liberals say his reputation is marred by his willingness to enforce Trump policies, including the ban on visitors from Muslim-majority countries.

Still, he's largely managed to avoid the spotlight even while on center stage.

"During every major crisis in the last couple of years, Dana has been there," said Gene Rossi, an attorney who worked alongside Boente for 21 years, first in the Justice Department's tax division and then in the U.S. attorney's office for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Rossi called him the "Zelig of the United States Department of Justice," referring to the 1983 Woody Allen film about a man who morphs to take on the characteristics of anyone he meets. "Dana is the classic calm inside a very turbulent storm."

Boente, who declined through an FBI spokeswoman to be interviewed, was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2015 to lead Virginia's Eastern District. Home to the Pentagon and the CIA, the district often prosecutes terrorism, espionage and national security cases.

Boente oversaw several high-profile corruption cases, including the prosecution of former Virginia Gov. Bob McDonnell, whose conviction on corruption charges was later thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Eastern District prosecutors also were involved in the probe of Hillary Clinton's use of a private email server, which ended without charges, a lingering source of outrage for Republicans.

Those close to Boente say he keeps his views to himself and takes pride in his reputation as a nonpartisan career official. He signed off on Trump's travel ban, they said, not because of his own ideology but because he thought he could defend it. Lower courts have repeatedly struck it down, and the latest version awaits Supreme Court review.

"Dana has always seemed apolitical to me and focused on the work of the U.S. attorney's office and the Justice Department rather than politics," said Geremy Kamens, who heads the federal public defender's office in the Eastern District of Virginia.

Lynch, speaking at Boente's swearing-in ceremony in 2016, said he reminded her of the "reliable middle child" she could always count on.

Trump, at least initially, saw him similarly, thanking him at a White House roundtable in February 2017.

"Amazing the way you just stepped into the breach and have done such a good job," Trump said.

Boente resigned as U.S. attorney in October so the Trump administration could nominate its own appointee to the powerful position.

The FBI did not immediately say why Wray chose Boente for general counsel, but in a recent message to FBI employees, the director praised Boente's "astounding work ethic, thoughtfulness, and independence that will serve the Bureau well."

And those close to Boente said he had hoped to remain in the department where he spent more than 30 years, working long days and weekends.

"He loves his job," Rossi said. "He is married to the Department of Justice."

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Former Trump campaign aide Rick Gates pleads guilty in Mueller investigation

Published: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:39 PM
Updated: Friday, February 23, 2018 @ 2:53 PM

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Rick Gates, a former aide in President Donald Trump's campaign, pleaded guilty to making false statements and conspiring against the United States on Friday, making him the fifth person to enter a guilty plea in special counsel Robert Mueller's investigation into Russian meddling in the 2016 presidential election.

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Published: Tuesday, February 20, 2018 @ 3:26 PM
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House Oversight Committee launches probe into Rob Porter's employment

Published: Wednesday, February 14, 2018 @ 2:40 PM

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The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is investigating the White House’s employment of staff secretary Rob Porter in the wake of allegations that he abused his two ex-wives, committee chairman Rep. Trey Gowdy, R-South Carolina, said Wednesday.

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Porter submitted his resignation Feb. 2.

Gowdy told CNN that the committee launched a probe Tuesday night into Porter’s employment and when White House officials knew about the domestic violence allegations levied against him.

Porter has denied any wrongdoing.

"We are directing inquiries to people that we think have access to information we don't have. You can call it official. You can call it unofficial,” Gowdy told CNN. “I'm going to direct questions to the FBI that I expect them to answer.”

Porter resigned Feb. 2 after his ex-wives went public with allegations of domestic abuse and said they spoke with federal authorities about the claims, prompting critics to question why he had remained employed in the Trump administration. The allegations held up a background check needed to grant Porter a security clearance for work in the White House. Officials said he was working on an interim security clearance.

The process to get Porter his clearance was ongoing at the time of his resignation.

“How do you have any job if you have credible allegations of domestic abuse?” Gowdy asked on CNN. “I am biased toward the victim.”

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Porter’s first wife, Colbie Holderness, and his second, Jennifer Willoughby, told the FBI about the alleged domestic violence in January 2017, after they were contacted while Porter was applying for his security clearance, according to The Washington Post.

White House officials defended Porter in the immediate aftermath of the allegations, and President Donald Trump has faced criticism for what critics called his lack of care for the victims and his focus on the fact that Porter has denied the claims.

“I was surprised by (the allegations), but we certainly wish him well, and it’s a tough time for him,” Trump told reporters in Washington on Friday. “He did a very good job when he was in the White House, and we hope he has a wonderful career. … It was very said when we heard about it, and certainly he’s also very sad now. He also, as you probably know, says he’s innocent, and I think you have to remember that.”

U.S. President Donald Trump speaks with White House Secretary Rob Porter (C) and Sen. Mike Lee (R-UT) (R) as they return to the White House December 4, 2017 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Chris Kleponis-Pool/Getty Images)(Pool/Getty Images)

Holderness told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive throughout their relationship, which started in 2000, but that things escalated after they were wed in June 2003. She said Porter kicked her during their honeymoon and during a 2005 vacation in Italy, punched her in the face.

Willoughby, who married Porter in November 2009 and separated from him in early 2010, told The Daily Mail that Porter was verbally abusive.

Willoughby obtained a protective order against Porter in June 2010 after she said he violated their separation agreement and refused to leave her apartment, according to court records obtained by The Daily Mail. In the complaint, Willoughby said Porter punched in a glass door while she was locked inside the apartment, but left after he heard she was on the phone with police.

She told the Mail that in December 2010, he dragged her out of a shower while she was naked in order to yell at her.

The couple was divorced in 2013.

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Veteran resident dies, receives patriotic farewell from nursing home

Published: Saturday, February 10, 2018 @ 12:20 PM

File image of the American flag.
Christopher Bruno, Freeimages
File image of the American flag.(Christopher Bruno, Freeimages)

A veterans nursing home in South Carolina honored a resident who died this week with a patriotic farewell that has gone viral.

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In a Facebook post, Laura Dorn thanked the Richard M. Campbell Veterans Nursing Home in Anderson for taking such good care of her father, Doug Timmons, who had Alzheimer's disease and was a resident of the facility for the last three years. Dorn wrote that her father died early Thursday morning and the staff took the time to honor him for his service as his body was removed from the facility. In a video that Dorn posted, Timmons' body, draped with an American flag, is wheeled out as staff line up and a musical tribute plays.

In a Facebook review of the nursing home, Dorn thanked the "caring, accommodating and selfless" staff who she said treated her father like family. Dorn wrote, "They treated my Dad with dignity and respect from the first moment there until he drew his last breath, then sent him off with a hero's procession."

The video has received more than 3 million views.

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