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Lawmakers: Burke’s ex-office played ‘striking’ role in Fast and Furious

Former U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke. (AP File Photo/Matt York)

The Congressional committee investigating Operation Fast and Furious described the role that the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona played in the gun-running scandal as “striking” and demanded documents from top officials in the office.

U.S. Rep. Darrell Issa and Sen. Charles Grassley, both Republicans, sent a letter Thursday to the office, saying that the former lead prosecutor on the case, Emory Hurley, micromanaged agents with the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco Firearms and Explosives, obstructed them and didn’t use all the legal tools at his disposal to stop firearms from getting into the hands of Mexican drug cartels.

The lawmakers want documents from Dennis Burke, who stepped down Tuesday as the U.S. Attorney for Arizona; Ann Scheel, Burke’s replacement; Hurley; Michael Morrisey, an assistant U.S. Attorney; Patrick Cunningham, Chief of the Criminal Division; and Robbie Sherwood, a former office spokesman.

The lawmakers said Burke, who testified two weeks ago in secret, “was unable to answer detailed questions about what his subordinates knew about the case.”

Issa and Grassley also took the office to task about its opposition to slain U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s parents asserting their rights as victims in the gun-running prosecution arising out of Fast and Furious.

Guns purchased by the lead defendant, Jaime Avila, 23, were found at the murder scene on Dec. 14.

The goal of Fast and Furious was to allow firearms that were purchased by straw buyers, or people who could legally buy them, to get into the hands of drug cartels as a way to track them to high-ranking members.

The congressional investigation of the operation has turned up evidence that ATF lost track of many of the more than 2,000 guns linked to it.

The U.S. Attorney, in opposing Terry’s parents, argued in court filings that “Avila’s offenses are too factually and temporally attenuated from the murder – if connected at all.”

Burke told the committee his office had never made such an opposition and that the family should be given victims’ rights.

“We find it difficult to understand why anyone would oppose the Terry family’s motion on the grounds that there is potentially no connection at all between the case against Mr. Avila and the case against Agent Terry’s murderers,” the letter read.

The lawmakers also suggested the office was trying to cover up the fact that the Avila-purchased guns were found at Terry’s murder scene.

Issa and Grassley say that emails immediately after the shooting “contemplated the connection between the two cases and sought to prevent the connection from being disclosed.”

Avila was arrested within hours of Terry’s death on gun charges not associated with the guns found at the scene. The arrest was unusual because defendants in gunrunning cases aren’t arrested until after a grand jury indictment.

“Clearly, your office and ATF did not suddenly develop probable casuse to arrest Avila in the hours after Agent Terry died,” Issa and Grassley wrote. “Your office could have done so much earlier, perhaps even before Avila purchased the weapons that were later found at the murder scene.”

A spokesman with the U.S. Attorney for Arizona did not immediately return a call seeking comment.

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