Justice IG criticizes former U.S. attorney for leak to Fox in ‘Fast and Furious’ scandal

The Justice Department inspector general said Monday that the former U.S. attorney in Phoenix retaliated against the main whistleblower in a botched federal gun operation by leaking information to a television producer that was meant to harm the whistleblower’s credibility.

Inspector General Michael E. Horowitz determined that former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke violated Justice Department policy by giving a Fox News producer a memo about John Dodson, a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives special agent who had testified before Congress about the failed gun operation known as “Fast and Furious.”

“There was substantial evidence that 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,” Horowitz wrote in his 21-page report.

Horowitz found that Burke’s misconduct was “particularly egregious” because of his effort to undermine the credibility of Dodson’s disclosures to Congress about the failures in Fast and Furious.

In the two-year Phoenix operation that began in 2009, ATF agents watched as more than 2,000 guns sold to suspected traffickers hit the streets. The operation to link guns to a Mexican drug cartel fell apart after two of the guns were found at the scene of a shootout that killed a U.S. border agent. That led to an 18-month congressional investigation and a vote to hold Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. in contempt for not disclosing documents about the Justice Department’s response to the outcry.

ATF special agent John Dodson. (Courtesy: CBS News)

Horowitz said that when Burke gave Fox News the memo in late June 2011, the U.S. attorney already was under investigation by the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility for an earlier unauthorized disclosure to the New York Times. Days before, Burke had told Deputy Attorney General James M. Cole that he had provided information to the Times and Cole warned him not to do it again.

The memo that Burke released to Fox News detailed a 2010 operation in which Dodson proposed to act as an undercover straw purchaser and deliver firearms to a suspected trafficker, but take no enforcement action. The plan was similar to the actions that were taken with thousands of guns in the Fast and Furious operation.

Burke was forced to resign as U.S. attorney on Aug. 30, 2011, as part of the fallout from Fast and Furious. Burke later took responsibility for leaking the memo about Dodson.

His attorney, Chuck Rosenberg, said Burke regretted his role and was willing to take responsibility for what he did. Rosenberg said that Burke had not intended to retaliate against Dodson.

Horowitz said that he has asked the department’s Office of Professional Responsibility to determine whether Burke’s conduct violated the rules of professional conduct for the state bars in which Burke is a member.

Sari Horwitz covers the Justice Department and criminal justice issues nationwide for The Washington Post, where she has been a reporter for 30 years.

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