Ariz. attorney who pleaded 5th in Fast and Furious investigation leaves job

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by Catherine Holland

azfamily.com

Posted on January 27, 2012 at 7:55 AM

Updated Wednesday, Oct 30 at 6:18 AM

PHOENIX -- The head of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona if officially leaving his job.

Patrick Cunningham is one of several who have been under fire since the botched gun-trafficking operation known as Fast and Furious came to light. Those investigating Fast and Furious believe Cunningham had a significant hand in the decisions made during the controversial operation.

According to a letter to U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder from House Oversight chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA), the Department of Justice had "identified Patrick Cunningham as the best person in the U.S. Attorney's Office to provide information about Fast and Furious to the Committee."

When Cunningham summoned to go before the House Oversight committee last week to be deposed about his role in the operation, he invoked the Fifth Amendment, which is the right to not implicate oneself in a crime.

In his letter to Holder, Issa said Cunningham's decision to plead the Fifth "suggests that the Department has jeopardized public safety and the public trust by allowing individuals with potential criminal culpability to remain in positions of authority."

It's believed that Cunningham and his office allowed more than 2,000 guns purchased in Arizona to be taken into Mexico. The intent was to follow the guns from small-time buyers to the big players in the drug cartels. The guns, however, vanished, many turning up later at crimes scene in both Mexico and the U.S. Two of those guns were recovered from the scene of the December 2010 shooting that killed border agent Brian Terry on the U.S. side of the border.

More than 1,400 of the Fast and Furious weapons are still missing.

Holder is slated to testify again on Tuesday. While many have called for Holder's resignation, both he and President Barack Obama have denied responsibility for the failed operation.

After Cunningham invoked his Fifth Amendment privilege, Issa requested that Holder make an assistant U.S. attorney who was under Cunnigham's direct supervision available for testimony.

Appointed by former U.S Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke, Cunningham had been the chief of the criminal division of the U.S. Attorney's Office for the District of Arizona since Jan. 11, 2010.

On Friday, Cunningham left the U.S. Attorney's Office for a job in the private sector.

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