State Capitol News
4:14 pm
Tue August 30, 2011

Top state prosecutor resigns abruptly in midst of investigation

Phoenix, AZ – In a brief statement, Dennis Burke said only it was the -- quote -- right time to move on. Left unsaid was Burke's role in the Fast and Furious program that he helped coordinate with officials of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The idea was to let straw buyers purchase weapons that even the gun dealers suspected would wind up in the hands of gang members, with the goal of tracking those guns to the real criminals. But the program went seriously wrong, with agents losing track of more than half of the 2,000-plus weapons sold. Two of those that were lost in the process showed up at the scene where Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was shot to death last year near Rio Rico. Attorney Lincoln Combs who represents Terry's family in what eventually will be a lawsuit against the federal government, said he cannot say how involved Burke was in the program -- and whether he is taking the fall for decisions made by those higher up.

(We don't really know to what extent he had a role. Obviously we feel like he had some role in what happened. But we don't know to what extent. So we certainly have no idea if he's a scapegoat or what the political forces are at work.)

Republican Congressman Darrell Issa, whose House Oversight and Government Reform Committee has been conducting hearings into Fast and Furious, said this change -- and the simultaneous reassignment of acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson -- were warranted. But Issa made it clear in a statement he believes responsibility goes even higher. And he said that he and Sen. Charles Grassley will -- quote -- press the Department of Justice for answers in order to ensure that a reckless effort like Fast and Furious does not take place again. For Arizona Public Radio this is Howard Fischer.