Earlier this week the Arizona Republic editorial board published an opinion piece titled, “Dennis Burke should've been celebrated, not sanctioned.” The board portrays the former U.S. Attorney and Operation Fast and Furious ring-leader as a whistleblower and victim rather than holding him accountable for his extensive and reckless actions during his time in office. Consider the following a direct response.
Between 2009 and 2011 when Operation Fast and Furious was active, Dennis Burke and his Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley refused to prosecute nearly every straw purchaser case handed to them citing “no probable cause.” One of those straw purchasers was Jaime Avila, a man who purchased hundreds of AK-47s on behalf of Mexican drug cartels under ATF surveillance for an entire year. Burke never bothered to stop him.
On December 15, 2010, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in Peck Canyon just outside of Rio Rico, Arizona. The guns left at the scene were traced back to Operation Fast and Furious and were purchased by Avila just a few months prior at Lone Wolf Trading Company in Glendale, Arizona. Less than 24 hours after Terry was killed, at 5:19 p.m., Burke learned of this connection.
Burke wrote to his staff mentioning two of the guns seized at the murder scene were connected to an ongoing investigation out of the ATF Phoenix Field Office, an investigation he had helped green-light from Phoenix with the approval of Justice Department officials in Washington.
“The guns tie back to Emory’s Fast and Furious case,” he said.
He also sent email to Attorney General Eric Holder’s Chief of Staff Monty Wilkinson saying, “The guns found near the murdered BP officer connect back to the investigation we were going to talk about—they were AK-47s purchased at a Phoenix gun store.”
Burke may have informed his staff, but had no plans to inform the Terry family about the connection between Fast and Furious and Brian Terry’s murder.
“He was the main person who should have brought that information to the family and he kept that in the dark,” Chairman of the Brian Terry Foundation Robert Heyer said in a phone conversation yesterday.
It wasn’t until March of 2011 that Burke flew to Michigan to meet the Terry family. He showed up shortly after the family learned through a CBS News report by Sharyl Attkisson that ATF was allowing guns to walk and that the guns left at Terry’s murder scene were part of a government operation. ATF Whistleblower John Dodson was featured in the report and publicly stated for the record that his Bureau, under guidance from the Department of Justice, had walked thousands of guns into Mexico and into the hands of violent criminals. Those same criminals took Brian Terry’s life.
“Even after this information surfaced, no one from the Justice Department came forward to explain to our family what Operation Fast and Furious was or its connection to Brian’s murder,” Brian Terry’s sister Kelly Terry-Willis wrote in a recent letter to Deputy Chief Bar Counsel for the State Bar of Arizona Amy Rehm. “In March 2011, then U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke traveled to Michigan and updated us on the progress of Brian’s murder investigation. Much to our confusion, Mr. Burke provided my family with inaccurate information about Brian’s shooting. On March 10, 2011 my mother Josephine Terry, Sister Michelle Balogh and Brother Kent Terry and I sat with Mr. Burke at my mother’s home in Flat Rock, Michigan. When we asked where the assault weapons came from and how they were put into the hands of Mexican Cartels. Mr. Burke replied to us that the weapons found at my brother’s murder scene were sold out of a Texas shop, not an Arizona shop.”
According to Terry-Willis, Burke also told the family that gunwalking never occurred.
An ATF briefing paper, dated January 8, 2010 about the ATF unit responsible for carrying out the operation, demonstrated that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Phoenix led by Burke was well aware that thousands of guns were being illegally purchased, trafficked and transferred.
“Currently our strategy is to allow the transfer of firearms to take place, albeit at a much slower pace, in order to further the investigation and allow for identification of additional co-conspirators who continue to operate illegally to traffic firearms to Mexican drug trafficking organizations which are perpetrating armed violence along the Southwest Border,” the paper stated. “This investigation was briefed to United States Attorney Dennis Burke, who concurs with the assessment of his line of prosecutors and fully supports the continuation of the investigation. Furthermore, Phoenix Special Agent in Charge Newell has repeatedly met with U.S. Attorney Burke regarding the on-going status of this investigation and both are in full agreement with the current investigative strategy.”
That “investigative strategy” detailed in the memo meant allowing guns to walk to Mexico.
“We believe that Mr. Burke knowingly, willingly and intentionally mislead us regarding the facts and evidence surrounding the murder of our son and brother,” Terry-Willis says. “We believe that Mr. Burke was fully engaged in the conspiracy to conceal the truth regarding the death of Brian and active in the attempt to cover up the facts. We believe that his conduct rises to the level of obstruction of justice.”
Burke lied to the Terry family, including to Brian Terry’s mother as a guest in her home, in order to avoid responsibility and bad press for the lethal operation. Further, through inappropriate document leaks, Burke viciously smeared John Dodson for telling the truth about an operation that should have never been implemented or approved in the first place. He has never apologized to Dodson for his actions.
“We’re strong believers in the attempt to keep this information public,” Heyer says. “If it wasn’t for John Dodson, they may have been successful.”
It is no mystery why the State Bar of Arizona has pursued sanctions (albeit pathetic sanctions) against Dennis Burke, but it is a mystery that the editorial board of Arizona’s largest newspaper would defend him, going so far as saying he should be “celebrated.” The facts surrounding Burke’s involvement in Fast and Furious and its cover-up aren’t "murky," but instead perfectly clear. Dennis Burke is a liar, not a truth teller, "whistleblower" or victim. With blood on his hands, Dennis Burke is hardly someone to celebrate.