With demonstrators outside the Phoenix federal courthouse clamoring for Sheriff Joe Arpaio's head, U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder today characterized the Department of Justice investigation into Arpaio's office as "serious" and "ongoing," and said that he expected the probe to produce "results."
The attorney general was at downtown's Sandra Day O'Connor U.S. Courthouse to participate in a mortgage fraud summit with state Attorney General Terry Goddard, U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, and others. There, Holder announced the allocation of $1.7 million to Arizona to combat mortgage fraud.
But during the press conference and afterward, Holder was unable to avoid questions about the DOJ's Arpaio probe.
"Our civil rights division is working on [the investigation of Arpaio] in conjunction with the U.S. Attorney's Office here in Arizona," Holder said. "And I expect that we will produce results, but the investigation is, at this point, ongoing, and I can't say much more than that."
Holder didn't give a timeline for when these "results" would occur. The DOJ announced its investigation of the Maricopa County Sheriff's Office more than a year ago, in a letter to Arpaio dated March 10, 2009. Since then, DOJ teams have visited Phoenix on numerous occasions to gather evidence.
At the summit, assembled law enforcement officials encouraged victims of mortgage fraud to come forward, but the question arose about how Joe Arpaio's sweeps of the Hispanic community might intimidate potential witnesses.
The United States AG encouraged those with law-enforcement concerns to put such fears aside.
"We can't do an effective job unless we hear from people who have been, in fact, victimized," said Holder. "So I would encourage people who . . . feel they have been victimized to come forward. There will be no repercussions for that."
Easier said than done in Arpaio's Maricopa County, where it's open season on Latinos.
When asked why he wasn't holding a summit on Arpaio's civil rights abuses instead of on the less controversial subject of mortgage fraud, the AG said the DOJ had to be less public about its efforts as the probe continues.
"It's a hard thing to host when you have an ongoing investigation," Holder said. "When we have grand juries that are operating [and] are doing a lot of things, using a lot of law enforcement tools, that precludes us from doing a lot of things publicly.
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"But that does not mean that our enforcement agents -- people working on these investigations -- are not reaching out, interacting with people, gathering information so that we can come to an appropriate conclusion, but I want to emphasize that this investigation is serious and that it is ongoing."
That's unlikely to satisfy the anti-Arpaio activists from civil rights leader Salvador Reza's Puente Movement, who were on the street nearby, demanding Arpaio's indictment.
Earlier this week, Puente members protested the U.S. Department of Justice's headquarters in Washington. They were in D.C. for the big pro-immigration rally, which took place on Sunday.