The U.S. Department of Justice's legal ethics division will look at whether a former U.S. attorney violated department rules when he disclosed information to a news reporter, an inspector general report released Monday states.
Dennis Burke, who was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona during the leak in June 2011, admitted to releasing a memorandum related to the Operation Fast and Furious gun-trafficking program to a Fox News producer, the inspector general report found.
At that time, the Fast and Furious program was the focus of oversight hearings on Capitol Hill and inspector general investigations, and led to intense criticism for the Obama administration and Burke’s office.
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, according to Senator Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), one of several Republican members of Congress leading the congressional investigation of Fast and Furious.
The inspector general report found that not only did Burke break the department's rules pertaining to media relations, but that Burke was aware his actions were improper and likely motivated by a desire to undermine public criticisms of Operation Fast and Furious.
"We found Burke's conduct in disclosing the Dodson memorandum to be inappropriate for a Department employee and wholly unbefitting a U.S. Attorney," the inspector general report said.
Burke resigned in August 2011, but the report recommends an Office of Professional Responsibility review of "whether Burke's conduct violated the Rules of Professional Conduct for the state bars in which Burke is a member."
Shortly before the disclosure, several ATF agents, including John Dodson, a special agent with the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), had expressed their concerns about the operation during testimony before the U.S. House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform.
In May 2010, Dodson drafted and e-mailed the memorandum to his supervisor that proposed an operation in which he would act in an undercover capacity as a straw purchaser and deliver firearms to the suspected firearms trafficker but take no enforcement action upon delivery.
That type of operation is exactly the kind that came under heavy scrutiny after a Border Patrol agent was killed and two of the straw purchased guns were found at the scene. The inspector general found an email from Burke about the memorandum pointed out the hypocrisy, with Burke calling it "unbelievable" that Dodson went to Congress "to unearth what he in fact was proposing to do by himself."
The inspector general report pointed to that as motivation, and found it more egregious because Burke had just been warned by Deputy Attorney General James Cole that such disclosures should not occur.
"We believe this misconduct to be particularly egregious because of Burke's apparent effort to undermine the credibility of Dodson’s significant public disclosures about the failures in Operation Fast and Furious," according to the inspector general report.
"We further believe that the seriousness of Burke's actions are aggravated by the fact that they were taken within days after he told Deputy Attorney General Cole that he took responsibility for his office’s earlier unauthorized disclosure of a document to The New York Times," the report states.
Burke's resignation soured his political ambitions, Politico reported at the time. Burke could not be reached for comment Monday.
Burke did not speak to DOJ inspector general's office investigators. However, he told congressional investigators and others that at the time he provided the document to Mike Levine, the Fox News producer, he believed Levine had already obtained or seen the document and the document had already been produced to Congress, the inspector general report states.
Burke also told congressional investigators that it was a mistake to provide the document to Levine, but that he did not think it was at the time he did it.
Grassley said the report once again brings into question the Obama administration's treatment of whistleblowers such as Dodson, "who had come forward with allegations of gunwalking."
"Instead of examining the allegations that came forward, the Justice Department almost immediately began to attack the credibility and good name of a dedicated federal agent upset with what he was ordered to do," Grassley said in a statement on Monday.