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‘Fast and Furious’ Gets New Scrutiny

Josh Biggs/Associated Press/Arizona Daily Sun
Dennis Burke, former U.S. attorney for Arizona, will be interviewed today by Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa about alleged gunwalking in a sting.

In an Aug. 18 transcribed interview, Burke opened by saying he was taking responsibility for Fast and Furious. “I’m not going to say mistakes were made. I’m going to say we made mistakes,” Burke said, according to a source close to the investigation.

He hinted at his role urging Justice Department lawyers to deny Fast and Furious allowed guns to walk, saying, “I regret that I was strident” when Grassley first contacted the Justice Department.

Burke said he didn’t have “full knowledge” of the investigation at the time the letter was sent and talked about how his “attitude” about the case had “evolved.”

Pressed repeatedly about what exactly he had learned since he urged the Justice Department to broadly deny guns were walked, Burke cited matters such as how long the case took and that there should have been more questions about “anecdote[s]” from Fast and Furious that “occurred in Mexico.”

Unlike other officials, such as Kenneth Melson, the former head of ATF, Burke did not describe a process of learning that the investigation was allowing hundreds of assault weapons to escape to Mexican drug cartels.

Burke eventually asked to “come back to you on that” so he could “give it more thought.”

Today’s interview represents the continuation.

“These aren’t the answers you would anticipate from someone who was in the dark and had only recently come to learn about the outrages in Fast and Furious,” the source close to the investigation said.

A Dec. 7 “frequently asked questions” memo from Democrats on the House Oversight panel sent to Democratic staff and obtained by Roll Call asks whether Burke “approve[d]” of gunwalking in Fast and Furious.

“No, according to then-U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke,” the memo said, citing other portions of Burke’s Aug. 18 interview in which he denied approving the tactic’s use and said he did not “recall” knowledge of its use.

“Did you ever discuss with [ATF Special Agent-in-Charge William Newell] a deliberate tactic of non-interdiction to see where the weapons ended up? To see if they ended up with the [cartel] in Mexico?” Congressional investigators asked Burke.

“I do not recall that at all,” Burke said.

However, in January 2010, Burke was prompted by lawyers in his office to decide on two tactical approaches in Fast and Furious, according to documents released by the Justice Department on Oct. 31.

Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor on Fast and Furious, discussed the approaches in a Jan. 5, 2010, memo about the main target of the case, Manuel Celis Acosta, who was suspected of trafficking more than 600 firearms to Mexico.

“In the past, ATF agents have investigated cases similar to this by confronting the straw purchasers and hoping for an admission that might lead to charges,” Hurley wrote. “Straw purchasers” are individuals who buy guns on behalf of gun traffickers.

Rather than use that approach, “Local ATF favors pursuing a wire[tap] and surveillance to build a case against the leader of the organization,” Hurley wrote.

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