Coming across the wire this morning was this stunning announcement by the Department of Justice:
Statement of Attorney General Eric Holder on the Resignation of U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis Burke 08/30/2011 01:01 PM EDT
“United States Attorney Dennis Burke has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney’s office, first as a line prosecutor over a decade ago and more recently as United States Attorney,” said Attorney General Holder.
Say what? Maybe I am not as plugged in as i used to be, but holy moly this came out of the blue. What is behind the sudden and “immediate” resignation of Dennis Burke, an extremely decent man who has also been a great manager of the Arizona US Attorney’s Office through some of the most perilous times imaginable? The USA who has piloted the office in dealing with such high grade problems such as those stemming from SB1070, to traditional immigration issues, to the Giffords/Loughner shooting tragedy, the corruption and malfeasance of the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office to voting rights and redistricting controversies brought on by the ever crazy Arizona Legislature, has now resigned in the blink of an eye? Really?
The GunWalker mess. Also known as “Project GunRunner” and “Operation Fast and Furious” (yes, the idiots at ATF actually did call it that). From the Arizona Republic:
Burke’s resignation, effective immediately, is one of several personnel moves made in the wake of a federal gun-trafficking investigation that put hundreds of rifles and handguns from Arizona into the hands of criminals in Mexico. Burke’s office provided legal guidance to the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms on the flawed initiative called Operation Fast and Furious.
The news comes on the same day as a new acting director was named to oversee the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives following congressional hearings into Fast and Furious, an operation that was aimed at major gun-trafficking networks in the Southwest.
Irrespective of the name attached to the program – I have always known it as the GunWalker operation, so i will stick with that – is has been a first rate clusterfuck from the outset. And, unlike so many things bollixing up the government, it cannot be traced back to the Bush/Cheney Administration; this beauty was the product of the Obama and Holder Department of Justice. In fact, the entire effort was, believe it or not, a byproduct of the vaunted Obama Stimulus Package, known as the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009.
What this ill fated venture accomplished instead was to stimulate deadly gun possession and crimes of violence in Mexico. Again, from the Arizona Republic:
Questions about the Fast and Furious program began to emerge in the spring as a member of Congress began pressing ATF officials for answers about an operation that was designed to track small-time gun buyers until the guns reached the hands of major weapons traffickers along the southwestern border.
Instead, ATF agents ended up arresting low-level suspects and nearly 2,000 of the weapons were unaccounted for, with nearly two-thirds of those guns likely in Mexico, according to testimony federal firearms investigators gave to a House committee in June.
Investigators also confirmed that two of the weapons connected to the ATF operations were found at the scene of a December gunbattle near Rio Rico, Ariz., that left Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry dead.
Terry’s slaying effectively ended the operation.
Dozens of so-called straw buyers have been arrested, and more than 10,000 guns confiscated. However, the ATF came in for criticism from the Justice Department’s Office of Inspector General last year because Project Gun Runner was catching only the straw buyers — small fish in the smuggling business.
At a news conference in February, the ATF in Phoenix announced that 34 suspects had been indicted and that U.S. agents had seized 375 weapons as part of Operation Fast and Furious. None of those arrested was a significant cartel figure.
In short, it is, and has been, a cock-up of epic proportions. Who has paid the accountability price for this operational disaster? Well, two weeks ago, on August 16, the Los Angeles Times had this to report:
The ATF has promoted three key supervisors of a controversial sting operation that allowed firearms to be illegally trafficked across the U.S. border into Mexico.
All three have been heavily criticized for pushing the program forward even as it became apparent that it was out of control. At least 2,000 guns were lost and many turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and two at the killing of a U.S. Border Patrol agent in Arizona.
The three supervisors have been given new management positions at the agency’s headquarters in Washington. They are William G. McMahon, who was the ATF’s deputy director of operations in the West, where the illegal trafficking program was focused, and William D. Newell and David Voth, both field supervisors who oversaw the program out of the agency’s Phoenix office.
Now, to be fair, the ATF complained about the LAT report, and the paper has issued a correction as follows: “The ATF said in a statement Aug. 17 that the three supervisors were “laterally transferred” from operational duties into administrative roles, and were not promoted.”
So McMahon, Newell and Voth were “laterally transferred” instead of being promoted. well, that’s convincing. The three men most responsible for the operational program still have cushy federal jobs at their regular status and pay grade, and Dennis Burke and the acting head of ATF are going to take the fall for it all. How nice.
Now, to be fair, as the sitting US Attorney for Arizona, Dennis Burke would have had to provide some legal guidance for the project and, perhaps, sign off on related warrant applications; but that is a far cry from being the one who designed the program and ran it operationally which, by all appearances, was done straight out of ATF and DOJ Main. Burke appears to be a convenient fall guy for an Obama Administration too craven to stand up for its own mistakes in DC. Former high level prosecutor and US Senator Dennis Deconcini had this to say:
If his resignation is tied to Fast and Furious, it’s ridiculous. It would be absolutely outrageous for ‘Justice Main’ to take it out on Dennis and make him the fall guy,” DeConcini said. “It’s just typical Washington cronyism. It just shows you how incompetent government can be to save themselves. It appears they screwed up, based on congressional hearings.
Without downplaying that the Arizona US Attorney’s Office would have had some involvement in the Gunwalker fiasco, it is extremely hard to see how Deconcini is off the mark with his assessment.
Why is the Obama Administration selling out a man like Dennis Burke? Because the Gunwalker fiasco is really that big of a total cock-up, they own every ounce of it, and would rather paint a scapegoat than own up to it. The mess has not gotten more play in the news and political discourse because the Obama Administration and Holder Department of Justice have done everything within their power to tamp down any investigation and/or discussion of the case because it really is that ugly.
Shamefully, the only sources of dedicated inquiry to date have come from Darrell Issa at House Oversight and Chuck Grassley at Senate Judiciary.
Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, ranking minority member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, has pressed the ATF for two months to disclose details of Project Gun Runner and to justify a policy that allowed weapons into a nation where there were more than 36,000 drug-related murders in four years.
Last month, William McMahon, the head of ATF’s Western region, testified that the agency had good intentions when it launched Operation Fast and Furious in 2009. But looking back, there are things ATF would have done differently, he said.
Appearing before the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, McMahon said he was committed to dismantling criminal networks on both sides of the border and that “in our zeal to do so, and in the heat of battle, mistakes were made. And for that I apologize.”
Say what you will, Darrell Issa and Chuck Grassley are right to be asking questions on the GunWalker affair, and others, including our fine Democrats, should be too. The Obama Administration should quit obfuscating, and trying to divert attention by sacrificing scapegoats, and make a full accounting for a failed program. Dennis Burke is owed that.