Political News

Justice Dept. rebuts suggestions top career prosecutor forced out

Posted November 29, 2017 4:59 p.m. EST

— The Justice Department is breaking its silence on the circumstances surrounding the impending departure of one of its top career prosecutors after a month of speculation about whether he was forced out for political purposes, according to a letter obtained by CNN.

Last month Dana Boente, the current US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia and acting head of the national security division at the Justice Department, announced his plans to step down, upon Senate confirmation of his successors.

Boente had privately been in talks for several weeks about a variety of other law enforcement positions within the administration that he might be interested in taking after his successors are confirmed, according to a source with knowledge of the discussions -- but the timing of his departure to the outside world was met with some raised eyebrows. It was announced on the same day that CNN reported a federal grand jury had approved the first charges in Special Counsel Robert Mueller's investigation and an NBC report suggested that Boente was asked to step aside.

Sen. Chris Coons, D-Delaware, said in a letter last week that he was "concerned that this resignation was not business as usual," and asked the Judiciary Committee to hold a hearing on it, among other issues of purported political interference at the department.

Until now, the Justice Department had remained mum on Boente, but in a letter to Coons on Wednesday, a top official subtly pushed back on any suggestion of political interference by pointing to the fact that Boente plans to stay put until his successors are officially confirmed.

"As you know, the confirmation process can take months," wrote Stephen Boyd, the assistant attorney general in charge of legislative affairs. "We are confident that Mr. Boente will continue his excellent service to the department as that process progresses."

President Donald Trump nominated Boeing in-house counsel, John Demers to lead the national security division permanently in September but has not announced a pick for the US Attorney for the Eastern District of Virginia.

Boente has had more titles than perhaps anyone else in Trump's Justice Department in the last 10 months.

First thrust into the spotlight in January as the acting attorney general after Trump fired Sally Yates for her refusal to defend the first travel ban, Boente later moved to the No. 2 spot at the Justice Department as acting deputy attorney general, tasked with overseeing the Russia probe after Attorney General Sessions recused himself and then delivering the news to a slew of US attorneys left over from the Obama administration that they had been fired.

"Mr. Boente is a career prosecutor who has faithfully served in the Department of Justice for more than 30 years," Boyd wrote. "It is a testament to Mr. Boente's knowledge, experience, and skills that he was asked to serve his country in these additional capacities."