U.S. Attorney Leaked Memo to Undermine Operation Critic

A federal prosecutor involved in the botched gun operation known as Fast and Furious gave an internal memo to the news media, possibly to undermine a federal agent’s criticisms, the Justice Department’s inspector general said.

Dennis Burke, then the U.S. attorney for Arizona, in 2011 provided a memo written by John Dodson, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco and Explosives, to a Fox News reporter. Burke was not authorized to release the memo and may have intentionally given it to the press to damage Dodson, according to a 23-page report from Michael Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general.

“We believe this misconduct to be particularly egregious because of Burke’s apparent effort to undermine the credibility of Dodson’s significant public disclosures about the failures in Operation Fast and Furious,” said the report, which was released today.

Dodson was one of the first law enforcement officials to publicly criticize operations where agents allowed guns to “walk” -- be purchased by straw buyers and cross into Mexico. The operations were intended to lead law enforcement to individuals in Mexican drug cartels, which utilize straw purchasers to get guns for their organizations.

One of the operations, known as Fast and Furious, became a focal point for congressional investigators as they sought to identify the origins and driving forces behind the program.

The inspector general’s office referred its findings to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility for a determination of whether the conduct “violated the Rules of Professional Conduct for the state bars in which Burke is a member,” according to the report.

Burke, through his lawyers, acknowledged in 2011 that he provided the memo in which Dodson proposed to work undercover as a straw purchaser of firearms. Burke gave it to the Fox News reporter to “give context to information that the reporter already had,” according to a letter sent to the Justice Department’s inspector general by Lee Stein, one of Burke’s lawyers, in November of that year.

Burke resigned as U.S. attorney in August 2011. Chuck Rosenberg, another lawyer for Burke, declined to comment on the inspector general’s report.

Horowitz released a 471-page report last year outlining management failures at the ATF and the Justice Department as part of the operation that lost track of about 2,000 guns purchased by straw buyers. Two of those guns were found at the scene of the 2010 killing in Arizona of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

To contact the reporter on this story: Phil Mattingly in Washington at pmattingly@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Steven Komarow at skomarow1@bloomberg.net

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