Robert C. Bonner

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Robert Cleve Bonner
Judge Robert Bonner Visits the CBP Advanced Training Center (cropped).jpg
Commissioner, United States Customs and Border Protection
Department of Homeland Security
In office
March 1, 2003 – November 30, 2005
Preceded by Office created
Succeeded by Ralph Basham
Commissioner, United States Customs Service
Department of the Treasury
In office
September 10, 2001 – March 1, 2003
Preceded by Raymond W. Kelly
Succeeded by Office abolished
Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration
In office
August 16, 1990 – October 31, 1993
President George H. W. Bush
Bill Clinton
Preceded by John C. Lawn
Succeeded by Stephen H. Greene (acting)
Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California
In office
May 24, 1989 – August 12, 1990
Appointed by George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Pamela Ann Rymer
Succeeded by Audrey B. Collins
United States Attorney for the Central District of California
In office
February 15, 1984 – June 16, 1989
President Ronald Reagan
George H. W. Bush
Preceded by Stephen S. Trott
Succeeded by Gary A. Feess
Personal details
Born Robert Cleve Bonner
(1942-01-29) January 29, 1942 (age 75)
Wichita, Kansas
Political party Republican
Education University of Maryland (B.A.)
Georgetown University Law Center (J.D.)
Website Biography at Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher LLP website

Robert Cleve Bonner (born January 29, 1942) is an American former prosecutor, former United States District Judge, former Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration and former Commissioner of United States Customs and Border Protection. He is a member of the Board of Trustees of the California Institute of Technology and former Chair of the California Commission on Judicial Performance.

Education and early career[edit]

Bonner was born in Wichita, Kansas. He grew up in Wichita where his father practiced law and his mother was a school teacher. He credits his mother for infusing him with a strong commitment to public service. He received a Bachelor of Arts degree from the University of Maryland, College Park in 1963 and a Juris Doctor from Georgetown University Law Center in 1966.[1] He was a law clerk for Albert Lee Stephens, Jr. of the United States District Court for the Southern District of California from 1966 to 1967. He was on active duty in the United States Navy’s Judge Advocate General Corps from 1967-1971, rising to the rank of Lieutenant Commander, USNR. During that time, he served for nearly two years on an aircraft carrier, the USS Franklin D. Roosevelt (CVA-42). He was an Assistant United States Attorney for the Central District of California from 1971 to 1975, and then went into private practice in Los Angeles for nine years. Afterwards he became the United States Attorney for the same district in 1984.[1] As a United States Attorney, he worked closely with the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) on two record-breaking money laundering cases, Operations Pisces and Polar Cap, and had led the prosecution team against the killers of a DEA special agent.[2]

Federal judicial service[edit]

On February 28, 1989, Bonner was nominated by President George H. W. Bush to be a United States District Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California, to a seat vacated by Judge Pamela Ann Rymer. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on May 18, 1989, and received commission on May 24, 1989. Bonner resigned on August 12, 1990, to be reassigned to a new position.[1]

DEA service[edit]

On May 11, 1990, President Bush nominated him to be Administrator of the DEA. He was confirmed by the United States Senate on July 27, 1990, and sworn in as the DEA's fifth Administrator on August 13, 1990. Bonner served as Administrator from August 16, 1990, to October 31, 1993.[3]

In 1992, Administrator Bonner issued a ruling that incorporated the FDA’s “safe and effective” standard to evaluate marijuana. After reviewing the record, he found that there were no valid scientific studies that indicated that smoking marijuana was safe and effective for any medical purpose. On that basis, he denied an application for the removal of cannabis from Schedule I of the Controlled Substances Act, stating that, "Those who insist that marijuana has medical uses would serve society better by promoting or sponsoring more legitimate scientific research, rather than throwing their time, money and rhetoric into lobbying, public relations campaigns and perennial litigation."[4]

Private practice[edit]

In November 1993, just after leaving his post as head of the DEA, Bonner appeared on 60 Minutes and criticized the CIA for permitting a drug shipment of one ton of pure cocaine to be smuggled into the U.S. without first notifying and securing the approval of the DEA. From 1993 to 2001, Judge Bonner was a partner in the Los Angeles and Washington, D.C. law firm Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher, an international law firm. His practice focused on business and white-collar crime matters, complex civil cases, internal corporate investigations, and corporate compliance programs.[2] Among his clients were Occidental Petroleum Chairman Ray Irani, French entrepreneur Francois Pinault, former President of Serbia Milan Panic, ConAgra, Waste Management, Inc., the California Institute of Technology, and the cities of Long Beach and Thousand Oaks. He also defended Heidi Fleiss in her federal tax evasion prosecution and personally prosecuted the first FBI Agent charged with espionage.

United States Customs Service[edit]

On June 24, 2001, President George W. Bush nominated Bonner as Commissioner of the United States Customs Service, later known as U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and he was confirmed on September 19, 2001, a little more than a week after the September 11 attacks. During his time as Commissioner, Bonner implemented far-reaching security changes, including the establishment of the National Targeting Center, the Container Security Initiative (CSI), and the Customs-Trade Partnership Against Terrorism (C-TPAT). He announced his resignation from that position on September 28, 2005, having served four years which included the creation of the Department of Homeland Security and the transfer of the Customs Service to that department, and retired on November 25, 2005.[2]

Later career[edit]

Bonner was hired by Representative Jerry Lewis in 2006 after Lewis was linked to an investigation being conducted by the U.S. Department of Justice (see Jerry Lewis - Lowery lobbying firm controversy). Lewis did not ultimately face charges. On August 12, 2007, Bonner was named by the Rudy Giuliani Presidential Committee as a member of the campaign's "Immigration Advisory Board". Bonner has continued his involvement with border security and immigration, and was appointed to the Homeland Security Advisory Council (HSAC) Southwest Border Task Force by Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano in 2009, and was appointed to the HSAC Integrity Advisory Panel by Homeland Security Secretary Jeh Johnson in 2015. In addition, he has also served on the Council on Foreign Relations task forces on U.S. Immigration Policy and North America, is the co-chair of the Pacific Council task force on U.S.‑Mexico border issues, and is a member of the Civilian Oversight Commission for the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. He retired as a partner of Gibson, Dunn & Crutcher to become a Senior Principal of Sentinel Strategy & Policy Consulting, a Washington, D.C.-based homeland security consulting firm.[5] He also heads Bonner ADR Services and serves as an arbitrator for high stakes disputes.[6]

Other interests[edit]

Bonner, who runs three miles a day, enjoys playing tennis and chess, a game he mastered while serving in the United States Navy on board an aircraft carrier.


External links[edit]

Government offices
Preceded by
John C. Lawn
Administrator of the Drug Enforcement Administration
Succeeded by
Stephen H. Greene (acting)
Legal offices
Preceded by
Pamela Ann Rymer
Judge of the United States District Court for the Central District of California
Succeeded by
Audrey B. Collins