|Fast and Furious: Who Is Dennis Burke?|
By Quin Hillyer
Thursday, May 23 2013
With three big scandals enveloping the Obama White House simultaneously, and multiple other outrages already shunted aside, it is hard to remember that a fourth major scandal still remains not only unresolved but actually updated just this week.
The scandal concerns the Fast and Furious gun-running operation, and observers were reminded again this week that the key player was a former U.S. Attorney in Arizona named Dennis Burke.
It might be time for a congressional investigative committee to subpoena Burke for more testimony – and, although he doesn’t appear to be at risk of being criminally charged (ethical wrongs, yes, but not criminal), the committee might even want to consider offering him limited immunity if there’s any chance it might secure more cooperation.
This is important, because Burke was no ordinary prosecutor. Instead, he may have been the most politically well-connected U.S. Attorney in all of Obamaland.
As a reminder, Fast and Furious involved allowing guns to “walk” to Mexican drug lords in a hare-brained scheme that still hasn’t been adequately explained. Hundreds of people were killed by those guns, including U.S. border agent Brian Terry. When the idiotic scheme tragically blew up, Justice Department officials stonewalled – and then stonewalled some more. To this day, Attorney General Eric Holder stands officially in contempt of Congress – a crime, by ordinary definitions – for refusing to relinquish documents related to Fast and Furious.
Not only that, but it long has been known that whistleblowers in the case were treated, at best, as pariahs for their efforts to get the truth out. On May 20, the Justice Department’s Inspector General issued a report concluding that Burke, who oversaw the crazy operation, had deliberately retaliated against lead whistleblower John Dodson – and in doing so, he “violated Department policy” in a “particularly egregious” manner.
It is true that Burke did sit down two years ago for two interviews with congressional investigators, and he provided evidence that knowledge of the rogue operation stretched up to very high levels of the Justice Department – at least to a level just below Holder himself.
But Burke still appears not to have been entirely forthcoming. As was noted in a joint committee staff report for U.S. for Representative Darrell Issa of California and U.S. Senator Charles Grassley (top Republicans on the relevant committees), “In two different transcribed interviews, Dennis Burke said he ‘did not recall’ or ‘did not know’ a combined total of 161 times.”
Burke pledged to return for yet another interview, but then resigned (in August, 2011) and has not provided any more information since. Despite the Obama administration’s official story that Fast and Furious was basically a Burke-led operation that got out of hand without direction (during it) or deliberate cover-up (afterwards) by the highest-level Obama politicos, it always has made more sense to believe that Burke consulted people far higher up the food chain.
Burke, you see, wasn’t just some locally important lawyer from Arizona. He was a top Democratic Hill staffer, a longtime protégé of former Obama White House Chief of Staff Rahm Emanuel, a former chief of staff for then-Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano and then a top aide to now-Secretary Napolitano at the Department of Homeland Security – and was widely understood as being groomed for a Democratic U.S. Senate race in Arizona.
How likely is it that he would have embarked on a wild-eyed border-related project without any discussions either with Napolitano (who has so much responsibility for border affairs) or with Emanuel (who remained at the White House for ten months after the inception of Fast and Furious)? Even after Burke resigned in some disgrace, Napolitano issued a statement calling him “an outstanding public servant.” (Message: Dennis, we still have your back.) And he has remained in high esteem with her inner circle: In March, he joined with just-departed Homeland Security chief of staff Noah Kroloff and former Secret Service Director Mark Sullivan (and others) to form a new business venture. (Kroloff’s career-long loyalty to Napolitano has been described thusly: “as a bare-knuckle political brawler, but a fierce supporter of his boss.”)
As things now stand, the Inspector General has referred Burke’s conduct for review to the Justice Department’s Office of Professional Responsibility, and Burke also is under investigation by the Arizona Bar Association. Burke’s top criminal prosecutor in the U.S. Attorney’s office, Patrick Cunningham, claimed Fifth Amendment protections in order to avoid congressional testimony – so, therefore, somebody thinks there is potential criminal liability in this mess. Those are all reasons why congressional investigators might want to consider some sort of immunity deal for Burke, to help him “remember” some of the 161 things he “did not recall.”
Until Eric Holder stops ignoring congressional subpoenas, Congress should keep trying to discover what he’s hiding. Dennis Burke might provide the key to unlock the mystery.
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