Former Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke, who resigned in August, admitted late Tuesday that he leaked a document aimed at smearing Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent John Dodson, an Operation Fast and Furious whistle-blower.
“Dennis regrets his role in disclosing the memo but he’s a stand-up guy and is willing to take responsibility for what he did,” Chuck Rosenberg, Burke’s lawyer, said according to NPR. “It was absolutely not Dennis’s intent to retaliate against Special Agent Dodson or anyone else for the information they provided Congress.”
Rosenberg claims Burke is cooperating with congressional investigators.
The memo that leaked this summer ended up being an attempt by Justice Department officials to cast aspersions on Dodson — one of the leading ATF Fast and Furious whistle-blowers. Burke admitted he leaked the memo in a Tuesday afternoon letter to Justice Department Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar.
The memo was leaked to press and had the names of criminal suspects deleted — but kept Dodson’s name on it. Attorney General Eric Holder came under fire during Tuesday morning’s Senate Judiciary Committee hearing when he wouldn’t answer any questions from Iowa Republican Sen. Chuck Grassley about the leaked memo, who was held accountable for it and how they were held accountable.
It’s unclear if Burke was the only DOJ official who leaked documents to smear whistle-blowers, but Dodson thinks Burke “did not act alone.” (RELATED: Holder says he knew about Fast and Furious longer than he first admitted)
“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,” Dodson’s attorney Robert Driscoll said in a statement. “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.”
Holder refused to answer Grassley’s questions about who smeared whistle-blowers via press leaks but politically jabbed at Grassley for asking about it.
When Burke resigned in August, Holder commended his service to the DOJ and didn’t mention that his resignation had anything do with Operation Fast and Furious. In a glowing statement commending Burke as he resigned, Holder said he “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.”
During Tuesday’s Senate hearing, though, when pressed on what he has done to hold his officials accountable for Fast and Furious, Holder said Burke’s resignation was in response to Operation Fast and Furious.
That Holder flip-flop came in response to questioning from Texas Republican Sen. John Cornyn, who demanded to know if Holder could “name one person who’s been held accountable for this Fast and Furious operation.”
“Well, we have made a number of changes with regard to personnel both in the Phoenix U.S. Attorneys Office, also at the ATF headquarters here,” Holder responded. “I will certainly await the report that comes out of the inspector general. And I will assure you and the American people that people will be held accountable for any mistakes that were made in connection with Fast and Furious.”
In a late Tuesday statement, after Burke admitted to leaking the document aimed at smearing Dodson, Grassley bashed the practice of using the press to attack whistle-blowers.
“Leaking sensitive documents to the press and retaliating against whistle-blowers is not good faith cooperation with Congress,” Grassley said. “The Justice Department confirmed that the Inspector General continues to investigate the leak which means there are others who may be involved in drafting and distributing the talking points and document to the press.”
“The Justice Department should not be allowed to continue scapegoating the one person who has resigned,” he continued. “We’re in contact with Mr. Burke’s attorneys and will continue to seek additional information about the document leak and retaliatory talking points.”
During Tuesday’s hearing, Grassley told Holder the leak “looks like a clear and intentional violation of the Privacy Act as well as an attempt at whistle-blower retaliation.”
It’s unclear at this point if Holder will do anything to prosecute Burke for leaking the information. It’s also unclear who else, if there is anyone else, at the DOJ also tried to smear whistle-blowers.