In a continuation of the Trump administration’s post-impeachment purge, on May 30 FBI general counsel Dana Boente resigned. Boente was once a Trump ally, serving as acting attorney general when the Obama administration’s holdover Justice Department chief, Sally Yates, refused to defend Trump’s travel ban in court. But, like so many people who helped Trump over the years, Boente ended up humiliated.
After his stint atop the Justice Department, he became the FBI’s top lawyer. There he reportedly opposed releasing FBI documents relating to Michael Flynn, Trump’s disgraced former national security adviser. Conservative commentators determined to expose anti-Trump plots around every corner insist that these documents show that FBI officials improperly conspired against Flynn. In fact, the documents suggest what Flynn’s guilty pleas had already indicated: that FBI agents did not compel him to lie to them. Flynn chose to commit that felony. He deserves jail time. Any reasonable attorney general would insist on it.
Nevertheless, Attorney General William P. Barr, relying in part on the conspiracy theorists’ spin on what the FBI documents showed, ordered the charges against Flynn dropped despite Flynn’s admissions of wrongdoing in open court. Trump media allies also attacked Boente for allegedly conspiring to hide the supposed exculpatory evidence. In apparent retribution for contradicting what became the Fox and Trump administration line, Boente was forced to resign.
NBC News reported — and other outlets subsequently confirmed — that the decision to fire Boente came from higher up in the Justice Department — which is unsurprising, given the degree to which Barr has helped Trump’s friends and hounded those who investigated them. Boente appears to be yet another victim, punished for failing to use his powers to fuel pro-Trump conspiracy theories, smear FBI officials and help Flynn, an admitted felon, walk.
(A Justice Department spokesperson referred me to the FBI, which did not respond to my queries.)
Following this latest apparently retributive act against another government official seen as insufficiently helpful to the president’s friends, Trump left little doubt that he is preparing to aid another crony — GOP dirty trickster and Trump ally Roger Stone, convicted of obstruction of Congress and witness intimidation. Barr had already intervened to reduce Stone’s sentencing recommendation, spurring protests from the career prosecutors who tried his case. Trump on Thursday essentially promised that Stone would not serve even the three years to which he was eventually sentenced, sharing a tweet calling for a full pardon for Stone and promising that his former confidante “can sleep well at night.”
Imagine you are a government official watching this systematic personalization of the justice system. The clear message is that, as long as Trump is president, you will be punished for failing to protect the president’s interests, even in defiance of law and fact, and protected, even against jury verdicts for serious offenses, if you remain unswervingly loyal to the man at the top. FBI officials considering whether to investigate government corruption hear this message. Federal functionaries distributing economic aid hear it. And so do federal officers wondering whether to advance on protesting crowds.