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US Atty for Ariz. Resigns, Minn. US Atty Promoted in Shake-Up re Botched ATF Gun-Running Probe

Posted Aug 31, 2011 2:16 PM CDT
By Martha Neil

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The top federal prosecutor in Arizona has resigned, effective immediately, and two other officials who oversaw a botched federal investigation of gun-running operation have been reassigned. In the probe, agents of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives reportedly stood by as hundreds of weapons were illegally purchased for Mexican drug cartels.

Two of the weapons purchased in Operation Fast and Furious were eventually found at the scene of a December gun battle in which a U.S. Border Patrol Agent was murdered, which sparked a congressional probe.

Although billed as voluntary by the Department of Justice, the resignation yesterday of U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke apparently occurred without any immediate career plans for the future, according to the Arizona Republic.

“It is the right time to move on to pursue other aspects of my career and my life and allow the office to move ahead," Burke said. A resignation letter published by the newspaper made similar statements. He was praised by Attorney General Eric Holder and others for the work he has done since taking office in 2009.

Minutes prior to an email from Burke announcing his resignation to his staff, the DOJ yesterday announced two reassignments of officials with oversight roles in the Operation Fast and Furious gun-running probe, also billed as voluntary: U.S. Attorney Todd Jones of Minnesota will now oversee the ATF, while former acting director Ken Melson of the ATF will serve as a forensic science adviser to the Office of Legal Policy.

And an assistant U.S. Attorney in Burke's office, Emory Hurley, was transferred to the civil division at his own request. He had been the lead prosecutor for Operation Fast and Furious cases there.

Burke's resignation came about two weeks after he testified before the U.S. House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform chaired by Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif.

Although Burke took responsibility for problems with Operation Fast and Furious, as the top man in his office, he testified he was not aware that ATF agents were watching as guns were sold illegally without interdicting the purchases.

It isn't clear who authorized Operation Fast and Furious, the newspaper notes.

The committee "will continue its investigation to ensure that blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department,” said Issa. “There are still many questions to be answered about what happened in Operation Fast and Furious and who else bears responsibility.”

Burke was praised as an energetic and effective leader by Attorney General Eric Holder and others.

Related coverage:

Arizona Republic: "20-year prosecutor assumes interim post"

International Business Times: "ATF Boss and U.S. Attorney Ousted in Gun Fiasco"

Tucson Citizen: "Heads roll fast and furiously over botched ATF gun walking scheme"

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