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‘Legitimate media’ gives pass to disgraced Fast and Furious prosecutor

Should Burke receive praise instead of a slap on the wrist?
United States Attorney’s Office for the District of Arizona

A former U.S. attorney should be “celebrated, not sanctioned” the editorial board of The Arizona Republic recommended Saturday. “Exactly why the State Bar of Arizona pursued sanctions [a reprimand and a bill for nominal costs] against Dennis K. Burke for his involvement in the 'Fast and Furious' gun-running scandal is a mystery -- making it a perfectly appropriate conclusion to this enigmatic, murky federal mess."

Except it’s not a conclusion, crocodile tear hand-wringing and excuse-making by columnist Ed Montini and editorial writer Doug MacEachern characterizing the criminal government "gunwalking" operation as a “slow, painful progression” notwithstanding. And the reason for the "mystery," the lack of progress and the absence of any real conclusion lies squarely with the Justice Department, and with political and media allies giving cover to its stonewalling and plausibility to its mid-level scapegoating.

Neither Montini nor MacEachern were on board with this story back when The Republic was first groping around trying to decide if it was in the paper’s interests to pursue leads from mere bloggers trying to get bigger fish to notice. This correspondent passed along a request from a reporter for The Republic to speak with whistleblowers back on January 4, 2011, when that solicitation was received based on exclusive early reporting in this column and at the Sipsey Street Irregulars blog:

"I'm interested in the recent blogs in which you indicated that ATF ‘walked’ several hundred AKs and ARs across the border, including one that may have been used to kill Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry," we were informed by the paper. "If you have information or a source that you'd be willing to share, I'm very interested."

This was common in those early days, with “real reporters” wanting us to give up our sources without earning them, including a self-entitled CNN producer who almost got hung up on with his airs that he was doing us a favor by talking with us and expecting us to turn everything over to him so that he could decide if it was worth any more if his precious time. It was also a month and a half before we were initially approached by CBS News (on February 16, 2011) with a similar request a week before they aired the first in a series of reports on February 23.

That The Republic had first crack at "gunwalker" and did not get an exclusive speaks more to their approach to the story than anything, but it is noteworthy to point out that the reporter we initially dealt with was put on “a hiatus of six months” and it wasn’t until November of 2011 that a summary piece was published, including results of interviews with this correspondent and citizen journalist Mike Vanderboegh. Even then, the conclusion that U.S. guns were intended to be found at Mexican crime scenes was disparaged, despite no satisfactory alternative explanation for how guns could be tracked when no provisions to do were planned. Evidently, apologists advancing the term "botched sting" is all it takes to make that conclusion so.

An early tip (one revealed almost at the onset of our reporting), that an “ATF source confirm[ed] ‘walking’ guns to Mexico to ‘pad’ statistics,” was ignored and even argued against. The Republic was satisfied to encourage its readers to accept as maxims “Don't attribute malice to incompetence” and “The endgame remains unclear.”

That’s hardly for lack of trying on the part of those who don’t work for Gannett Publications, itself providing cause for concern about ethical gun-related reporting. But let’s take this latest from the media giant’s Arizona holding at face value, and explore why maintaining Burke deserves laurels instead of condemnation seems more agenda-driven than anything.

“I have been told ATF will be holding a press conference in Phoenix this morning,” this correspondent advised The Republic on January 25, 2011. “You might wish to verify that and have someone attend and ask some questions about this, including if the weapon and the purchaser of the weapon involved with the BPA [Border Patrol Agent’s] death has been identified and when?”

That public announcement about related indictments happened later that day (as documented in the September, 2012 Office of Inspector General Report).

As for what Mr. Burke did to merit official sanction, Senator Chuck Grassley provided a summary.

“U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke leaked a sensitive document to the press regarding a whistleblower who had come forward with allegations of gunwalking … he leaked an internal memo regarding Fast and Furious suspect Jaime Avila to the New York Times, and … he lied to Deputy Attorney General James Cole,” Grassley charged, adding. “The document leaked to Fox News was deemed so sensitive by the Justice Department that it was not provided to Congress, except in a secured room at department headquarters.”

Crediting Special Agent John Dodson as “the whistleblower who had the guts to come forward and tell Congress the truth about Operation Fast and Furious,” Grassely went on to elaborate “The Inspector General confirmed that Mr. Burke went to great lengths to discredit Special Agent Dodson and Congress’ investigation into the gunwalking that led to the death of Customs and Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

“Mr. Burke’s refusal to cooperate with the Inspector General’s investigation shows me that he didn’t operate in good faith,” Grassley explained. “His actions are indicative of this administration’s willingness to attack whistleblowers who cooperate with Congress and show the administration’s commitment to undermine legitimate congressional oversight."

By way of further establishing context, Mike Vanderboegh and this columnist specifically warned against attempts to smear whistleblowers back in January of 2011, and a week later were the first to report on retaliation.

Still unexplored (by the "mainstream" press) and leaving higher-ups in Justice unscathed, is what Eric Holder aide Monty Wilkinson meant when he told Burke “I've alerted the AG” the night Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was killed, and why anyone should believe Holder asked no further questions and still maintains, as he testified under oath on May 3, 2011, “I’m not sure of the exact date but I probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.”

Perhaps The Republic would care to dedicate some journalistic resources to following up on that late night call, assuming they’re not too busy patting Burke on the back for protecting stonewalling higher-ups, signaling the “all clear” and then bemoaning how slow everything is to bring to light. That's all the while allowing those who eschew the light to preemptively(and wrongly) declare Eric Holder “cleared” and dismiss anything else as “right wing conspiracy.”

That pointing fingers at lower-level figures with no real accountability has defined the results of all investigations to date seems lost on the intrepid representatives of the Fourth Estate. And God forbid we should expect anyone over at The Republic to demand to know why the White House has been protecting former National Security Council Director of North American Affairs Kevin O’Reilly throughout. Not that anyone should hold their breath waiting for any "real reporters" to ask about that.

Meanwhile, the family of Brian Terry is no closer to obtaining justice, as if that’s even remotely possible (and as if Burke proved sympathetic to their concerns), and neither are the survivors of the estimated hundreds of other victims, a list that can and will only continue to grow as sheltered mainstream editorial "professionals" stump for closure and scream “Foul!” over wrist-slaps for culpable bureaucrats carrying the administration’s water.

Sympathy for Burke? The guy took one for the team and has friends in high places. Who thinks that won’t be recognized?


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