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This is the first of a two-part series of articles on accusations that the corruption at the heart of Fast and Furious traces back to Eric Holder’s office and the Arizona branch of the U.S. Department of Justice.

Evidence is mounting that responsibility for the Fast and Furious gun-running scandal traces back to corruption in the Arizona branch of the U.S. Department of Justice, which reports to Attorney General Eric Holder.

On Friday, the House Oversight Committee was shocked when Patrick J. Cunningham, the head of the criminal division of the U.S. attorney’s office in Arizona, announced he would take the Fifth Amendment rather than testify regarding Fast and Furious.

Under the operation, the Obama administration allowed weapons to be sold to suspected Mexican drug operatives so they could be traced to the higher echelons of the cartels. But the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, which ran the operation, lost track of hundreds of weapons and many have been linked to crimes, including the murder of Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.

The Fast and Furious focus on Arizona comes at a time when Holder’s Justice Department has alleged the Maricopa County Sheriff’s Office, under the direction of Sheriff Joe Arpaio, has engaged in a systematic policy of denying Hispanics their civil rights under federal law.

With Cunningham’s refusal to testify before Congress, it now appears any prosecution of Arpaio will be complicated by the Obama administration’s need to defend a suspect Arizona DOJ operation.

Ultimately, Assistant Attorney General Thomas E. Perez, who directs the DOJ’s Civil Rights Division, will have to show that he has more than anecdotal evidence to substantiate his charges against Arpaio. At the same time, Holder will have to explain why U.S. attorneys in Arizona appear to be running for cover rather than defending their part in Fast and Furious.

WND previously has reported that Perez’s Civil Rights Division appears to have launched a political campaign against Arpaio in retaliation for the sheriff’s decision to constitute a Cold Case Posse to investigate Obama’s eligibility to be president under Article 2, Section 1 of the Constitution.

Now, some critics see Perez’s allegations against Arpaio as an effort to relieve the heat that top DOJ brass in Washington knew was about to descend on the department’s Arizona branch under Patrick Cunningham and Dennis Burke.

Burke was the first U.S. attorney in Arizona to become a casualty in the Fast and Furious investigation.

Cunningham, a Dennis Burke protégé

In July 2011, Burke, a prominent Democratic Party operative in Arizona, resigned as U.S. attorney just as the House Oversight Committee and an internal Justice Department investigation began focusing on the role Arizona played in Fast and Furious.

Before taking the job of U.S. attorney in Arizona, Burke served as chief of staff to Janet Napolitano when she was the governor of Arizona. He later was a senior adviser to Napolitano when she moved to Washington to become Homeland Security Secretary in 2009 under the in-coming Obama administration.

When Burke resigned, Politico reported on aspirations he might have to become Arizona governor by following in Napolitano’s footsteps. His goal could have been to demonstrate he was not a soft-on-crime Democrat by implementing a political strategy in which he would follow his tenure as a federal prosecutor by becoming Arizona attorney general and then running for governor.

Burke, at the time he resigned, also was considered a possible Democratic Party candidate for the seat being vacated by Republican Arizona Sen. Jon Kyl or as a candidate for governor in 2014.

In Arizona, Cunningham was widely regarded as Burke’s “No. 1 guy,” as noted by reporter David Codrea of the Gun Rights Examiner.

Burke’s sudden resignation in 2011, followed by Cunningham’s decision to take the Fifth, strongly suggest that criminal activity within the Arizona ATF might be at the heart of the Fast and Furious scandal.

Arizona Democrats in Fast and Furious hot water

Last month, blogger Mike Vanderboegh of the “Sipsey Street Irregulars” published an email from then-acting ATF director Ken Melson to Burke on Feb. 3, 2011. Melson thanked Burke, who at the time was U.S. attorney for Arizona, for his work on Fast and Furious.

Vanderboegh pointed out that the Melson email to Burke “shoots his ‘What, me Gunwalker?’ defense in the head.”

On Friday, Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., the chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, sent Cunningham a letter that read in part:

During the course of our investigation, the committee has learned of the outsized role played by the Arizona U.S. attorney’s office – and you specifically – in approving the unacceptable tactics used in Fast and Furious. Senior Justice Department officials have recently told the committee that you relayed inaccurate and misleading information to the department in preparation for its initial response to Congress.

If the U.S. attorney’s office under the direction of Burke and Cunningham becomes the subject of a criminal investigation, the case could end up under the supervision of the FBI, which also is directed by Holder.

The convoluted scenario could have Holder prosecuting them over circumstances for which he ultimately could be seen as liable.

The second article of this two-part series will produce evidence that Holder himself, not Burke or Cunningham, was a prime architect of Fast and Furious.

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