BOISE — Bart Davis had his pick of offices when, as U.S. attorney, he moved into the fifth floor of the new Pioneer Crossing complex in Boise. He chose a corner office from which — at a distance, among a crop of downtown buildings — he can see the dome of the Idaho Capitol.
After three-and-a-half years as U.S. attorney, Davis now says goodbye to that office. Today will be his last day in the post.
The 65-year-old former state senator focused on organized crime and gang offenses in the Treasure Valley during his time as Idaho’s top federal prosecutor. He filed more than 1,000 criminal cases, more than any other U.S. attorney in a three-year period, according to his office. He prosecuted more than 1,200 violent offenders and worked with county prosecutors to tackle child exploitation.
Challenged by the pandemic in his last year, Davis and his office needed to adjust to remote work and other safety measures. He pursued cases of scams related to the pandemic, such as hoarding, price-gouging and fraud related to the Paycheck Protection Program. Davis said internet crimes against children also rose during this past year.
But his legacy won’t be the cases he won or the violent offenders he helped take off the streets, Davis said. It’ll be the people he hired.
“I’ve been privileged to lead some of the finest women and men in federal service,” Davis said in his office earlier this month. “I am so proud of these people and the work that they do.”
Davis was nominated by former President Donald Trump and has served in the post since September 2017. President Joe Biden recently asked Trump-appointed attorneys to step down. Trump also had purged Barack Obama-appointed U.S. attorneys in 2017.
U.S. Sens. Jim Risch and Mike Crapo in statements on Thursday said Davis has been a dedicated public servant. Risch, who worked with Davis in the Legislature, credited Davis with “protecting Idaho children and keeping illicit drugs and gang violence out of the Gem State” through the cases he pursued.
“His leadership will have a positive impact on Idaho for years to come, and Vicki and I wish Bart and his family the very best as he transitions back to private life,” Risch said.
Crapo urged the Biden administration to find a worthy successor.
“He has devoted his role as U.S. attorney for Idaho to upholding the law, justly prosecuting those charged with crimes and ensuring all Idahoans have received equal justice,” Crapo said, adding that he wants Biden “to nominate an individual to fill his seat with his same level of leadership, legal scholarship and sound legal judgment.”
Davis said he doesn’t know what’s next for him. He turns 66 soon. But he’s certainly not retired, he said, and has thought about running for another office.
Davis says son’s death gave him a ‘soft spot’ for victims of crime
When Davis sits at his desk, he faces a wall with photos — one of his wife, Marion, and another of his son Cameron, whom they buried in 2003. He was 23 years old.
Cameron, a student at Boise State University, was fatally shot at a Boise keg party in March 2003 by another student, Vincent Craig Olsen. They had argued. Cameron threw beer on Olsen, and Olsen shot him with a revolver hidden beneath his clothing.
Davis said it was the most difficult time in his life. But he has hoped and prayed that his experience didn’t result in a “pointed edge” to his approach as a prosecutor, he said.
“I didn’t want to fill my life with hate, and I definitely didn’t want my children to feel hatred for another,” Davis said.
His son’s death gave Davis a “soft spot” for the victims of crime and a passion to protect them. Davis said the two were caught in a moment neither of their mothers were proud of.
“One young man ended up in the penitentiary, and my son was buried in the cemetery. Which mother had it harder?” Davis said as he grew emotional. “To this day, I don’t know the answer to that question.”
Davis’ connection to the Idaho Legislature
A photo framed and sitting on Davis’ bookshelf was taken by the Idaho Statesman in 2006 — a group of lawmakers huddled with a piece of legislation, including Davis, now Gov. Brad Little, Sen. President Pro-Tem Bob Geddes and then-Senate Minority Leader Clint Stennett, who died in 2010.
As the Senate majority leader, Davis also made national news for his opposition to bills that allowed concealed carry on school campuses and other firearm laws. Davis served as an Idaho Falls state legislator for 10 terms, most of which as the Senate majority leader.
Davis didn’t offer his opinions about the Idaho Legislature or the Republican Party. He said his current nonpartisan role is to strictly enforce public policies set by Congress and believed it was important to recognize his place.
“It was my privilege to serve. But it was also my duty to leave,” Davis said. “My picture gets to hang on the walls … But I’m a passerthrough. I am not a permanent member of that body, and that’s a lesson that everybody who serves there has to learn. And some of us take longer to learn it than others.”
Little in a statement sent to the Statesman on Thursday said Davis’ legacy of public service “is second to none in this state.”
“I wish him well in his next chapter and thank him for all his work to keep Idaho safe and prosperous,” Little wrote.
Throughout his time as U.S. attorney, Davis carried with him laminated teachings of a former U.S. attorney general, Robert H. Jackson, who said that a prosecutor has more control over life, liberty and reputation than any other person in the country.
Davis said he recognized what “immense power” his office had over people’s lives. He believed he and his staffers were strategic, thoughtful and “slow to make a prosecution decision,” knowing his office would tarnish a person’s reputation even with dismissed charges.
But the easiest part of the job was being his employees’ “biggest cheerleaders,” he said.
“They believe in the mission of the Department of Justice,” Davis said, “and I believe in them.”