Though I didn't make Dennis Burke's swearing in as the new U.S. Attorney for Arizona yesterday, I did make the after-party -- a reception at the University of Arizona's College of Medicine in downtown Phoenix.
The reception, sponsored by Congressman Ed Pastor and Phoenix political consultant Ronnie Lopez, was attended by over 100 political movers-and-shakers, as well as lawyers and judges. Before remarks by Lopez and Burke, I spotted Burke mingling with the crowd, and approached him to ask about the two-ton purple gorilla in our county -- Sheriff Joe Arpaio -- and whether Burke's office was going to do anything about Arpaio's rampage against his political enemies, the judiciary, and so on.
I mentioned the MCSO's recent raid on the offices of Chicanos por la Causa, and the climate of fear and intimidation that's dominant in Maricopa County as Arpaio and his willing henchman, County Attorney Andrew Thomas, harass judges, file racketeering complaints on their foes, and arrest practically anyone who opposes their rule of terror.
"People are afraid," I told him. "They're waiting for your office to do something about this man."
Burke replied that he could "neither confirm nor deny" any investigation under way by his office into the sheriff, but invited me to "read into what I just said."
"You want a quote for your article," he replied. "You wanna write an article; I'm just telling you that I don't think giving you a quote would solve the problem."
"So you admit there is a problem?" I asked.
"Of course there's a problem," he conceded. "You're not going to solve it with my quote."
I also asked Burke about statements made by ex-U.S. Attorney David Iglesias during a CBS 5 interview, where Iglesias said that he would work closely with a grand jury and seek an indictment of Arpaio.
"I don't want to litigate it [here]," he told me.
Burke's later remarks to the crowd did not mention Arpaio, or allude to him in any way. When queried, some of those present who're in the know let drop that "things are happening" regarding Arpaio, but they wouldn't get into specifics or go on the record.
Today I spoke with someone I can only describe as a high-ranking federal official, who informed me that the U.S. Attorney would be "taking a critical look into the shenanigans going on in Maricopa County." Asked when this might happen, this individual said it would begin in a matter of weeks, and would involve some legal action against the MCSO.
All of this is very vague, but legal action -- possibly involving a federal grand jury -- would not be surprising, considering Arpaio and Thomas' recent antics. Also, I found it somewhat encouraging that Burke at least acknowledges the "problem" in Maricopa County.
What we have here is a battle royale that must be fought along the lines of Al Capone and Eliot Ness in the 1987 film The Untouchables. We already know who the Al Capone character is being played by locally. What remains to be seen is if Dennis Burke will be our Eliot Ness.
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