To the great annoyance of congressional investigators, Attorney General Eric Holder’s Justice Department has been dragging its feet turning over subpoenaed documents relating to several inquiries – most infamously the “Fast and Furious” gun walking operation, in which American guns were deliberately allowed to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartel killers.
DOJ has a habit of releasing these subpoenaed documents in massive “dumps” on Friday night, to guarantee minimal media coverage. Last Friday’s dump weighed in at 500 pages, and turned out to contain some very interesting emails sent in the wake of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder. Among the first media outlets to dig out these messages was… National Public Radio:
The email messages show the former top federal prosecutor in Arizona, Dennis Burke, notifying an aide to Holder via email on Dec. 15, 2010 that agent Brian Terry had been wounded and died. “Tragic,” responds the aide, Monty Wilkinson. “I’ve alerted the AG, the acting Deputy Attorney General…”
Only a few minutes later, Wilkinson emailed again, saying, “Please provide any additional details as they become available to you.”
Burke then delivered another piece of bad news: “The guns found in the desert near the murder [sic] … officer connect back to the investigation we were going to talk about — they were AK-47s purchased at a Phoenix gun store.”
Uh-oh. This is very bad news for Attorney General Eric Holder’s perjury defense – which rests on the assertion that he has no idea what’s actually going on at the Justice Department, doesn’t read his email, and was totally out of the loop on Operation Fast and Furious until it became a media sensation. Specifically, Holder told Congress in May 2011 that he “probably heard about Fast and Furious for the first time over the last few weeks.” Later, he changed his mind and said it was more like “a couple of months.”
But here we have emails clearly demonstrating that Holder’s aide, Monty Wilkinson, was fully aware of the Fast and Furious connection to Agent Terry’s murder on December 14, 2010 almost immediately. NPR’s summary of the incriminating emails leaves out some very important details, which the Washington Times provides:
The released emails show a conversation between one official, whose name was redacted, and now-former Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke.
“On December 14, 2010, a BORTAC agent working in the Nogales, AZ AOR was shot. The agent was conducting Border Patrol operations 18 miles north of the international boundary when he encountered [redacted word] unidentified subjects. Shots were exchanged resulting in the agent being shot. At this time, the agent is being transported to an area where he can be air lifted to an emergency medical center,” the email read.
Another email sent an hour later, read: “Our agent has passed away.”
Burke then forwarded those two email to Eric Holder’s then-deputy chief of staff, Monty Wilkinson, adding that the shooting was “not good,” due to the fact that it had happened “18 miles w/in” the United States border.
Wilkinson responded with, “I’ve alerted the AG [Holder], the Acting DAG, Lisa, etc.”
Later that day, Burke sent an email to Wilkinson alerting him that the guns used to kill Brian Terry were weapons from the gunrunning operation, Fast and Furious.
“The guns found in the desert near the murdered BP officer connect back to the investigation we were going to talk about – they were AK-47s purchased at a Phoenix gun store,” Burke wrote to Wilkinson in an email.
(Emphases mine.) Senator Charles Grassley (R-IA) of the Senate Judiciary Committee, one of the leading investigators of the Fast and Furious scandal, said via Twitter that these documents “clearly show Holder’s people knew about gun running days before I opened my investigation, yet they lied.” (Note: I have taken the liberty of transcribing Grassley’s comment from highly compressed Twitter-speak.)
Now, in order to maintain his “Sergeant Schultz” defense against perjury, Holder would have to claim that his aide, Wilkinson, never actually briefed him after claiming to have done so, and never passed along any of the Fast and Furious-related details of Terry’s murder.
If Wilkinson is willing to go under the bus for his boss, he might try claiming he was somehow distracted from researching this immensely significant story, after plainly stating he would look into it, and keep Holder up to speed. Keep in mind that the emails make it absolutely and unambiguously clear that Wilkinson knew weapons found at the scene of Terry’s murder were connected to an investigation he and Burke “were going to talk about.” It strains credulity that Wilkinson simply lost interest in the Terry murder, which generated a huge amount of DOJ message traffic, and near-panic among the ATF brass running Operation Fast and Furious.
Or, alternatively, Holder would have to claim that Wilkinson dutifully prepared a detailed briefing within a day or two of Terry’s murder, but Holder never bothered to read it.
Burke, by the way, is a key Fast and Furious player who admitted, after resigning, that he leaked a Justice Department memo to the press, in an attempt to discredit whistle-blowing ATF agent John Dodson. To date, he’s pretty much the only person to lose his job because of the Obama Administration’s deadly gun-walking scandal. He just happens to have been the subject of a critical profile in the Arizona Republic this weekend, which pointed out that many observers think he was thrown under the bus to protect his superiors, perhaps including AG Holder:
Curiously, the supporters and detractors agree on one point: They say Burke became a scapegoat to protect higher officials in the Justice Department or White House. Dave Workman, a gun-rights blogger, described Burke as “the chief sacrificial lamb.”
Sen. Grassley, in an October statement, said: “Mr. Burke is to be commended, to some extent, for being the only person to resign and take responsibility for the failed operation. Of course, I do not believe he should feel obligated to be the only fall guy.”
Phoenix attorney Andy Gordon, a close friend for nearly two decades, said Burke may be loyal to a fault, protecting higher-ups in the Justice Department. “DOJ threw him under the bus. That’s my view,” Gordon said.
Another friend, attorney Tim Nelson, said: “I don’t know the workings of the Obama administration, whether they were looking for a fall guy or what. But it certainly looks that way.”
It is difficult to see how Holder could remain in office after making these claims – the man would clearly be a dangerous incompetent whose continued presence posed a clear and present danger to the Justice Department’s operations and accountability. However, if he doesn’t continue his cluelessness defense, he’ll be facing perjury charges. All of this is sure to come up when Holder makes his next appearance before the House Oversight committee tomorrow. If former U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke really wants to clear his name, this would be a good time to come forward, and tell Congress exactly what he discussed with Holder’s aide, in the hours after Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry’s murder.