ALEXANDRIA, Va. (AP) — Federal prosecutor Dana Boente, described by a former attorney general as a “consummate utility player,” is being asked to pinch hit again, this time in one of the most influential posts in U.S. government.
President Donald Trump tapped Boente late Monday to serve as acting attorney general, replacing Sally Yates, a holdover from the Obama administration. Trump fired Yates after she instructed Justice Department lawyers not to defend the Trump administration’s travel ban because of questions over its legality. Boente has said the order is lawful and the Justice Department will defend it in court.
The Trump administration hopes Boente’s term will last just a few days, as they push for Senate confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general. Sessions could be confirmed this week, but so far a vote has been held up amid Democrats’ objections.
Boente, a career prosecutor, has served most recently as U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.
This isn’t the first time he’s been asked to take the reins of an office in turmoil.
Boente took over as the top federal prosecutor in New Orleans amid a scandal that led to the resignation of U.S. Attorney Jim Letten.
Letten stepped down in 2012 after two of his top deputies acknowledged they had posted anonymous comments on a newspaper website about cases their office had handled, including the prosecution of police officers who shot and killed unarmed residents on a New Orleans bridge in the chaotic aftermath of Hurricane Katrina in 2005. In 2013, a federal judge threw out the convictions of five former officers and ordered a new trial, concluding the case had been tainted by “grotesque prosecutorial misconduct.”
Boente served as interim U.S. Attorney for the Eastern District of Louisiana until September 2013. During his brief stint there, he oversaw the high-profile case against former New Orleans Mayor Ray Nagin, who was indicted on corruption charges in January 2013 and convicted at trial the following year.
Matthew Coman, who was lead prosecutor in Nagin’s case, called Boente an intelligent, hard-working career prosecutor with a “high moral character.”
“He’s got a great depth of experience,” said Coman, who left the U.S. Attorney’s office to join a New Orleans law firm.
Some of the anger at Trump’s handling of the travel ban and Yates’ dismissal has spilled over to Boente. His Wikipedia page was briefly vandalized to describe him as “the newest sock puppet for the Trump administration.”
John Fishwick, who recently resigned as U.S. Attorney in the Western District of Virginia, said he was dismayed by Yates’ dismissal, but he said Boente shouldn’t be tarred by association for stepping in to a difficult situation.
“I often turned to him for advice,” Fishwick said of Boente. “If there’s a silver lining to (Yates’ dismissal), it’s that we’re getting a thoughtful, conscientious lawyer in there.”
He’s also earned the respect of his adversaries. Geremy Kamens, who heads the federal public defender’s office in the Eastern District of Virginia, called him “a professional and a straight-shooter, and our relationship is positive and very cordial. He’s willing to work with us on issues of mutual concern, although obviously there are many issues on which we disagree.”
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When he was formally sworn in last year as U.S. Attorney after a unanimous confirmation by the Senate, then-Attorney General Loretta Lynch attended the ceremony and called Boente “one of the Justice Department’s consummate utility players.”
Boente, 62, is a native of Carlinville, Illinois. He began his Justice Department career as a tax attorney. Except for his brief stint in New Orleans, he’s been a prosecutor in the Eastern District of Virginia since 2001.
He is described as low-key and unfailingly polite. Even though he oversaw numerous high-profile cases, he avoided the spotlight and rarely held press conferences. But he frequently conducted community outreach, meeting with community leaders on issues of concern like responding to an epidemic of heroin cases, and maintaining good relations with Northern Virginia’s Muslim community.
The district is home to the Pentagon and CIA, and for decades has been one of the most important prosecutorial offices in the country, handling numerous espionage, terrorism and national security cases. Boente led the office through several high-profile corruption cases as well, including the prosecution of Republican former Virginia Gov. Robert McDonnell, whose conviction was overturned unanimously by the U.S. Supreme Court after the Justice’s expressed concern that prosecutors’ theory of the case would criminalize routine interactions between politicians and their supporters.
Associated Press writer Michael Kunzelman contributed to this report from Baton Rouge, Louisiana.