Former Arizona U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke came forward Tuesday to take responsibility for his role in leaking a memo used to cast aspersions on a Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives agent who had blown the whistle to Congress about a botched gun-trafficking operation.
Burke, who left the Justice Department in August as congressional scrutiny over Operation Fast and Furious intensified, acknowledged his actions on the same day Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, pressed the attorney general about who "smeared" agent John Dodson. Grassley said the leak may have violated the Privacy Act and run afoul from repeated warnings from lawmakers not to go after whistleblowers at ATF.
Chuck Rosenberg, a lawyer for Burke, told NPR that "Dennis regrets his role in disclosing the memo but he's a stand-up guy and is willing to take responsibility for what he did. It was absolutely not Dennis's intent to retaliate against Special Agent Dodson or anyone else for the information they provided Congress."
Rosenberg added that Burke has been "cooperating fully with the Department of Justice and with the Congress and will continue to do so."
Burke disclosed his role in a letter to Acting Inspector General Cynthia Schnedar on Tuesday afternoon. The letter, signed by his attorneys, said that Burke got the sense a reporter had already become aware of a memo about Dodson and that Burke wanted "to give context to information the reporter already had." The attorneys wrote that because topics in the memo involved closed investigations, the document "was not subject to any limitations on disclosure under the Freedom of Information Act."
It's not clear who if anyone else at the Justice Department took part in sharing the information with reporters. An Inspector General investigation into the leak was first reported by NPR in July.
The Justice Department Inspector General and ethics watchdogs at the Office of Professional Responsibility are investigating the gun-trafficking operation, as is the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, which has called Attorney General Eric Holder to testify Dec. 8.
Update at 6:51 p.m. ET. 'Burke Did Not Act Alone':
Robert Driscoll, an attorney for Dodson, sent us this statement:
Special Agent Dodson demonstrated both tremendous courage and fidelity to the mission of ATF when he came forward to discuss the misguided "Fast and Furious" investigation. It is unfortunate that his superiors at ATF and DOJ did not listen to his attempts to address the matter internally, and instead chose to attack him once he, out of necessity, stepped forward. Today's public acknowledgement by former US Attorney Burke that he participated in such misguided efforts to smear Agent Dodson is welcome, but unfortunately Burke did not act alone in attempting to ruin Special Agent Dodson's career.
Update at 8:40 p.m. ET. 'Others ... May Be Involved':
Sen. Chuck Grassley, a Republican from Iowa, was one of the lawmakers asking questions of Attorney General Eric Holder when he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee today. After news broke of the leaked documents, Grassley released this statement:
"Leaking sensitive documents to the press and retaliating against whistleblowers is not good faith cooperation with Congress. The Justice Department confirmed that the Inspector General continues to investigate the leak which means there are others who may be involved in drafting and distributing the talking points and document to the press.
"The Justice Department should not be allowed to continue scapegoating the one person who has resigned. We're in contact with Mr. Burke's attorneys and will continue to seek additional information about the document leak and retaliatory talking points."