A senior federal prosecutor in Arizona is asserting his Fifth Amendment rights and refusing to testify before a House committee next week in its ongoing probe of Operation Fast and Furious.
Patrick J. Cunningham, chief of the Criminal Division of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Arizona, informed the House Oversight Committee through his lawyer Thursday that he will invoke his right against self-incrimination, Fox News reported.
He was ordered Wednesday to appear by committee chair Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), who’s been heading up the investigation into the botched program. Under Fast and Furious, weapons sold to Mexican drug cartels were not tracked, resulting in the deaths of hundreds, including a U.S. Border Patrol agent.
“I am writing to advise you that my client is going to assert his constitutional privilege not to be compelled to be a witness against himself,” Cunningham’s attorney wrote in a letter to the committee. “My client is, in fact, innocent, but he has been ensnared by the unfortunate circumstances in which he now stands between two branches of government. I will therefore be instructing him to assert his constitutional privilege.”
Sources say Cunningham is concerned that he’s caught in a pincer of sorts between senior Justice Department officials in Washington eager to shift blame to lower-ranking staffers and Congressional investigators eager to see heads roll over the investigation.
Cunningham was initially scheduled to appear before the committee voluntarily, before declining and prompting Issa to issue a subpoena for him, Fox reported.
In a statement, Issa called Cunningham’s Fifth Amendment assertion “a significant indictment of the Department’s integrity in Operation Fast and Furious.”
“This is the first time anyone has asserted their fifth amendment right in this investigation and heightens concerns that the Justice Department’s motivation for refusing to hand over subpoenaed materials is a desire to shield responsible officials from criminal charges and other embarrassment,” Issa said.