Prosecutor intends to take 5th if called in probe

AP News
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Posted: Jan 20, 2012 6:13 PM
Prosecutor intends to take 5th if called in probe

A federal prosecutor in Arizona intends to remain silent if called for questioning in a congressional probe of a problem-plagued gun smuggling investigation.

Patrick Cunningham's decision to invoke his Fifth Amendment right against self-incrimination in the investigation of Operation Fast and Furious was disclosed Friday after the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee subpoenaed him.

Republican committee Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said congressional investigators have information that Cunningham played a role in approving a controversial law enforcement tactic, resulting in federal agents losing track of weapons that later turned up at crime scenes in Mexico and the U.S.

In a letter to the committee Thursday, Cunningham's lawyer said his client wasn't even working at the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix until 2010, months after Operation Fast and Furious began there.

According to Issa, senior Justice Department officials have told the committee that Cunningham relayed inaccurate and misleading information to department superiors insisting that no unacceptable tactics were used.

"If, as you claim, department officials have blamed my client, they have blamed him unfairly," Washington attorney Tobin Romero, representing Cunningham, said in a letter to Issa. Romero said Cunningham vetted the accuracy of his information with others in the U.S. Attorney's office in Phoenix.

The evidence shows that "my client is, in fact, innocent," Romero wrote. "Regrettably, he now finds himself caught in the middle of a dispute between the legislative branch and the executive branch" and he will assert his constitutional privilege.

Cunningham, chief of the criminal division in the U.S. Attorney's Office in Phoenix, is resigning his government post effective next Friday to take a job in the private sector.