State Capitol News
8:44 am
Wed September 7, 2011

Cases connected with last year's border patrol agent murder being farmed out to federal prosecutors

Phoenix, AZ – The issue surrounds what else has been going on at the office of the U.S. Attorney for Arizona. Specifically, federal prosecutors have been involved in planning and operating Fast and Furious, a program that let suspected straw purchasers for Mexican drug cartels buy guns from dealers in Arizona. The idea was to track those weapons to the ultimate buyers. But the program went horribly wrong, with agents losing track of more than half the 2,000-plus guns that were supposed to be monitored. And two of those missing guns turned up last year at the site where Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered, though neither gun was actually used in the killing. That has led to several investigations about how the program was run. Late Tuesday federal prosecutors in Phoenix got those criminal cases involving Terry's murder and the missing weapons transferred to counterparts in California. Paul Charlton, a former U.S. Attorney himself who now represents Terry's family in what could be a wrongful death lawsuit against the government, said he does not think anyone in the office he used to run was tanking the case.

(But when you're facing an investigation such as the one the office is facing now, the right thing to do is to give it to someone else so that those people outside the office can maintain a high level of confidence.)

Those outsiders include two members of Congress -- Sen. Charles Grassley of Iowa and Rep. Darrell Issa of California. Just last week they wrote a letter to Ann Scheel who was placed in charge of running the Arizona office after Dennis Burke, who had been the president's appointment as U.S. Attorney for Arizona, abruptly quit. They questioned whether the prosecutors in Arizona were really pursuing all angles in the Terry case -- or whether they were perhaps less than enthusiastic because that could expose further mistakes in how Fast and Furious was run. Late Tuesday Grassley issued a statement calling the transfer -- quote -- an overdue recognition that the cases could not be handled propery by the same prosecutors who oversaw the dangerous gunwalking strategy in the first place. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.