Boente speaks to CHS students
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Carlinville native Dana Boente, who was appointed by President Donald Trump to serve as Acting U.S. Attorney General for 10 days between the firing of Sally Yates and the confirmation of Jeff Sessions earlier this year, spoke to Carlinville High School students during an assembly just before the end of the school day on Friday, May 12. Students were given an opportunity to write down questions for Boente in advance of the assembly.
Boente opened with a cautionary statement about heroin, noting that 33,000 people died nationwide of heroin overdoses in 2015. “It affects every socioeconomic, racial group,” he said, leading into a story about a case he prosecuted about a decade ago in which a young woman’s boyfriend received 20 years in prison for narcotics distribution resulting in death. “It’s a hard decision to decide to prosecute someone who’s 20 years old and you’re going to take away the next 20 years of their life, but I did make that decision, and he was convicted at trial, so the years between 20 and 40 are gone for him.” He also noted that heroin is frequently laced with Fentanyl or Carfentanil (which is used to tranquilize large animals for surgery) without users’ knowledge.
Boente asked the students to raise their hands to indicate if they had plans for the weekend, then for the summer, and then for the seniors to indicate if they have plans for the next five years. He then relayed that into a tale about how he started out as an accountant but ultimately decided he didn’t enjoy that profession so went back to school to become a lawyer instead, ultimately ending up working for the Department of Justice. “I thought I would be there for three or four years and come back to Chicago and practice law, but that’s not how it worked out,” he said, noting that he finds it easier to work for an organization that has a mission — such as to protect the American public, in the case of the Department of Justice, or to educate students, in the case of schools. “I have enjoyed going to work every day of my life.” Boente said he works seven days a week, usually 12-14 hours a day. “I don’t necessarily recommend that, but I enjoy my work that much.”
Boente commended the students for their questions. Asked the most interesting case he has been involved in, Boente said he tried lawyer Richard Hirschfeld for tax evasion and securities fraud, and two of the witnesses in the case were Muhammad Ali and Larry Holmes. “I spoke with Ali for about four hours total in two different long visits,” said Boente. “He was an incredibly charming, gentle man.”
Asked the most stressful part of being Acting Attorney General, Boente said, “I really don’t think it was that much stress. I guess maybe I’m not wired that way that I feel a lot of stress. It was a difficult time. We were trying to enforce the first immigration order, and that was very difficult. In my personal experience, I always thought trial work was a lot more stressful. When you try a lot of cases, you’re eventually going to lose one.” He noted that as Attorney General, he signed all applications for foreign intelligence surveillance warrants. “For 10 days, I was the only person in the country who could sign those,” he said, noting those are warrants for tracking a person’s cell phone use, searching their home, etc., without the person knowing about it.
Another student asked how Boente’s experiences in Carlinville shape the way he approaches his job today. “With the benefit of my Carlinville experience and the next 40 years — it’s kind of hard to separate the two — I think growing up in a small community has its own value because of the way you have to treat someone,” he said. “No one’s a stranger, so however you treat them will be remembered for that occurrence.”
Asked what the necessary skills are to become a successful attorney, Boente said, “Surprisingly enough, it’s writing. It’s the most important skill by far. People think it’s arguing in the courtroom, but so much of the work is done before that. An effective, forceful writer is critical to the work that I do and the people that I employ. It’s everything.”
One student asked Boente to describe his interactions with presidents over the years. “It’s been a little sporadic,” he replied, noting he’s had more time with President Obama and President Trump. “They’re very much as you see them on television. President Obama was a very reserved, kind of controlled person, always tightly on message. President Trump is much more free-wheeling, is much more the kind of person who would come in here and really connect with people; I think in that respect, probably more than most people have kind of talked about, President Clinton and President Trump are a lot more alike in the way they would just deal with a person.”
Asked what advice he would give to a young person unsure of their vote’s importance, Boente said, “You need to be informed, and I think being informed needs to be more than cable news or reading a couple of blog posts. You are not going to become informed with those at all.”
Another asked about the importance of bipartisanship in government, Boente referred to Everett Dirksen of Pekin, the Senate Minority Leader in the 1960s who was integral in the passing of the Civil Rights Act. “It would not have been accomplished without his support,” Boente said. “It’s that type of bipartisanship that is really lacking today.”
Boente closed by telling students that events that seem like a big deal today will not seem so important in the long run. “The very best times in your life, in reflection, well, were good, they were very good, but they weren’t perhaps as good as in that moment. And the worst times, conversely, were not as bad as you imagined they were at that time,” he said. “It’s not as important as you see it at that moment.”
Dana Boente, who served as Acting U.S. Attorney General for 10 days earlier this year, spoke to Carlinville High School students on Friday, May 12. Here, he asks the seniors to indicate if they have plans for the next five years.