In July, news broke that someone in the U.S. Justice Department had leaked a memo in an attempt to retaliate against a whistleblower in the Fast and Furious scandal.
That someone, it turns out, was former Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.
Burke resigned in disgrace at the end of August, two weeks after he testified in a Congressional investigation about the "gun-walking" scandal. He had key involvement in the debacle that led to hundreds of guns being sold to suspected drug-cartel associates. Some of those guns have been turning up at crime scenes in Arizona and elsewhere, including two linked to the December 2010 slaying of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
E-mails show he approved the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Fast and Furious operation, as well as a botched grenade-smuggling investigation.
Yesterday, in a letter to U.S. Acting Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar, one of Burke's lawyers confirmed that Burke had admitted to a Congressional panel on August 16 that he'd leaked a memo from the whistleblower to a reporter.
The memo was by ATF Agent John Dodson, who had repeatedly warned his supervisors that it was a terrible idea to put hundreds of guns in the hands of cartel suspects as a way of gaining intelligence on the cartels. Yet Dodson once wrote a memo requesting to use some of the tactics he later criticized.
Burke leaked that memo to a reporter -- who is yet to be named -- to explain how the ATF had proposed investigations similar to Fast and Furious in the past, says the letter
to Schnedar by Valley lawyer Lee Stein. The reporter allegedly already had heard about the memo, possibly because it was first leaked by someone else in the Obama Administration.
Whatever his intentions, Burke's leak came after repeated warnings by Congressional lawmakers that no one should try to retaliate against the Fast and Furious whistleblowers.
We asked Stein today how it was possible that Burke -- who didn't return our call -- failed to understand the leak would be seen as retaliation because, well, it looks like retaliation. Or, at the least, an attempt to discredit Dodson.
Stein reiterates that retaliation hadn't been Burke's goal. However, he adds that, "It's unfortunate that Dennis didn't handle it in a different way."
Dodson's memo "to some extent contradicted what was being said about the investigative techniques being used in Fast and Furious," Stein says. Yet the memo was regarding a closed case, wasn't part of any grand jury proceedings and would likely have been distributed to anyone who submitted a Freedom of Information Act request for it.
Even if the latter were true, it's our experience that FOIA requests and glaciers move at about the same speed. A leak like this has all the hallmarks of helping a reporter considered friendly to Burke's cause. The leak never resulted in a story.
We Believe Local Journalism is Critical to the Life of a City
Engaging with our readers is essential to Phoenix New Times's mission. Make a financial contribution or sign up for a newsletter, and help us keep telling Phoenix's stories with no paywalls.
Support Our Journalism
Dennis' admission to Congress shows "he's taking responsibility -- he's a stand-up guy," Stein says.
We tried to reach Robert Driscoll, the Washington D.C. attorney who represents Agent Dodson. (Yeah, that's the same Robert Driscoll who represented Maricopa County Sheriff Joe Arpaio and former County Attorney Andrew Thomas, infamously convincing them to dump their poorly thought-out federal racketeering case against county leaders.) Driscoll didn't call us back, but he did send this statement to National Public Radio, which broke the story about the leaked memo in July:
Special Agent Dodson demonstrated both tremendous courage and fidelity to the mission of ATF when he came forward to discuss the misguided "Fast and Furious" investigation. It is unfortunate that his superiors at ATF and DOJ did not listen to his attempts to address the matter internally, and instead chose to attack him once he, out of necessity, stepped forward. Today's public acknowledgement by former US Attorney Burke that he participated in such misguided efforts to smear Agent Dodson is welcome, but unfortunately Burke did not act alone in attempting to ruin Special Agent Dodson's career.
Stein says Burke will continue to cooperate with the investigation.