Trump justice department forces out top FBI lawyer in Flynn case – report

Martin Pengelly in New York
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

A top FBI lawyer who was criticised on Fox News for his role in the investigation of Michael Flynn has resigned after being asked to do so by senior figures at the Department of Justice, NBC News reported on Saturday.

Related: What is 'Obamagate' and why is Trump so worked up about it?

The FBI confirmed to NBC that Dana Boente, its general counsel and a former acting attorney general, announced his resignation on Friday after a near-40-year career. NBC cited two sources anonymous sources as saying the decision came from “Attorney General William Barr’s justice department”.

Boente joined the DoJ in 1984 and in 2015 became the US attorney for the eastern district of Virginia, after being nominated by Barack Obama.

In January 2017, he briefly served as acting attorney general, after Trump fired Sally Yates, an Obama-era deputy, for refusing to defend an executive order on immigration.

Temporarily overseeing the investigation of Russian election interference, Boente signed a warrant authorising FBI surveillance of Flynn.

The retired general, Donald Trump’s first national security adviser, was fired for lying to the vice-president about contacts with the Russian ambassador during the presidential transition.

Flynn pleaded guilty to lying to the FBI about the conversations and cooperated with the special counsel Robert Mueller as he took over the investigation of Russian election interference and links between Trump and Moscow.

Flynn sought to withdraw his guilty plea before sentencing. Earlier this month, Barr said the justice department would drop the case, although a federal judge put that decision on hold.

On Friday, the same day Boente was forced out of the FBI, Trump’s new director of intelligence and Senate Republicans released transcripts of the calls in question, between Flynn and the Russian ambassador Sergey Kislyak.

Opponents of the president said the transcripts proved that Flynn had been treated fairly. Supporters of Trump said they showed Flynn had been treated unfairly.

As Trump attempts to construct a scandal called “Obamagate”, with the surveillance of Flynn at its centre, his administration is releasing material it hopes will put Obama officials in a bad light.

Boente also wrote a leaked memo concerning material put into the public domain about Flynn, which he said was not exculpatory.

Trump is notoriously open to the views of key Fox News contributors.

On 27 April, the Fox News host Lou Dobbs told viewers: “Shocking new reports suggest FBI general counsel Dana Boente was acting in coordination with FBI director Christopher Wray to block the release of that evidence that would have cleared General Flynn.”

Trump has reportedly been urged to fire Wray, whom he appointed to replace James Comey, the man he fired in May 2017 in an attempt to close the Russia investigation.

Comey’s firing led to the appointment of Mueller, who concluded a near-two year investigation without proving criminal conspiracy between Trump and Russia.

Mueller did, however, obtain convictions of Trump aides and say in his report the campaign was receptive to Russian help. He also laid out extensive evidence of attempts by the president to obstruct his investigation.

Trump has fired or forced out FBI and DoJ figures including Andrew McCabe, Comey’s deputy, lawyer Lisa Page and Peter Strzok, an FBI agent who worked on the case.

On Friday, Wray issued a statement about Boente.

“Few people have served so well in so many critical, high-level roles at the department,” he said. “Throughout his long and distinguished career as a public servant, Dana has demonstrated a selfless determination to ensure that justice is always served on behalf of our citizens.”