The U.S. attorney in Arizona leaked an internal memo to undermine a veteran Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who was highly critical of the botched “Fast and Furious” gunrunning operation, the Justice Department’s office of inspector general said Monday in a report.
Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz said ATF Agent John Dodson had provided significant information and public testimony on the agency’s handling of the Fast and Furious probe and “was retaliated against by” U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke with the unauthorized disclosure in late June 2011 of an ATF memo the agent had drafted.
In the report, the inspector general said Mr. Burke, who resigned after Fast and Furious had become media fodder, provided the memo to Fox News in violation of Justice Department policies — a disclosure that “was likely motivated by a desire to undermine” Mr. Dodson’s public criticisms.
The Dodson memo was among documents the Justice Department made available for review by two congressional committees in connection with their Fast and Furious investigation.
More than 2,000 weapons were purchased by “straw buyers” from gun shops in Arizona and “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico in the Fast and Furious probe and contributed to the deaths of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry and an unknown number of Mexican citizens.
In May 2010, Agent Dodson emailed a memo to his supervisor proposing that he act as an undercover straw buyer and deliver firearms to a suspected firearms trafficker but take no enforcement action — a plan similar to the Fast and Furious operation.
He told the IG’s office that after reviewing the Fast and Furious operation, he did not understand how conducting surveillances of what appeared to be unlawful firearms purchases and transfers without taking any enforcement action was viable or responsible. He said he thought his new proposal would be rejected, and when his supervisors saw such a plan in “black and white,” they would be shocked into realizing what they were doing in Fast and Furious. He told investigators that after his plan was approved, he reluctantly went forward with it and he still regretted letting any firearms “walk.”
It was that draft memo the IG’s office said Mr. Burke leaked.
Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee who first questioned the Fast and Furious probe, said the IG’s report shows that Mr. Burke “went to great lengths” to discredit Mr. Dodson and Congress’ investigation into the gunwalking that led to Terry’s death. He described Mr. Dodson as “a whistleblower who had the guts to come forward and tell Congress the truth about Operation Fast and Furious.”
Mr. Horowitz’s office had asked the Justice Department to identify all personnel whose official responsibilities required or permitted their access to the Dodson memo. It received 152 names from eight department components, including Mr. Burke, whose office oversaw the Fast and Furious investigation. Shortly after that request, the IG’s report said Mr. Burke told investigators he had provided the memo to a reporter.
The report said investigators did not identify any other department employee who had disclosed the memorandum to any other member of the media.
Mr. Horowitz said Mr. Burke’s unauthorized disclosure of the Dodson memo violated Justice Department rules pertaining to media relations. He also said there was “substantial evidence” Mr. Burke’s motive for disclosing the memorandum was to “retaliate against Special Agent Dodson, who two weeks earlier had testified before a Congressional committee regarding his concerns about Operation Fast and Furious.”
The inspector general said the seriousness of Mr. Burke’s actions were “further aggravated by the fact” they were taken within days after he told Deputy Attorney General James Cole he took responsibility for an earlier unauthorized leak of information to The New York Times, and after Mr. Cole put him on notice that such disclosures should not occur.
The Fast and Furious operation was the subject of 18 months of congressional inquiry that led to a vote to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for failing to turn over requested Fast and Furious documents.
Mr. Burke resigned Aug. 30, 2011. He was not available Monday for comment, but told the IG’s office he was “unabashed” about leaking the memo and did not believe he did anything illegal.
Calling Mr. Burke’s conduct “wholly unbefitting a U.S. attorney,” Mr. Horowitz said his findings have been referred to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to determine whether Mr. Burke violated the Rules of Professional Conduct for the state bars of which he is a member.
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