ATF shake-up fol­lows Fast and Fu­ri­ous in­quiry

The Washington Times Weekly - - Politics - BY JERRY SEPER

The act­ing di­rec­tor of the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives (ATF), who got caught this year in a firestorm over the Fast and Fu­ri­ous un­der­cover gun in­ves­ti­ga­tion, was re­as­signed Aug. 30 and will be re­placed by U.S. At­tor­ney B. Todd Jones of Min­nesota.

Ken­neth E. Mel­son, whose last day on the job was the close of busi­ness Aug. 30, re­ported on Aug. 31 to the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s of­fice of le­gal pro­grams, where he will as­sume a lesser role as se­nior ad­viser on foren­sic science.

Also on Aug. 30, U.S. At­tor­ney Den­nis K. Burke in Ari­zona, who over­saw all fed­eral pros­e­cu­tions in the state, re­signed, and As­sis­tant U.S. At­tor­ney Emory Hur­ley, the lead prose­cu­tor in the Fast and Fu­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion, was re­as­signed from the crim­i­nal di­vi­sion to the civil di­vi­sion.

The three Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials came un­der heavy crit­i­cism this year when two top Repub­li­can law­mak­ers dis­cov­ered that hun­dreds of weapons sold to straw buy­ers in the Fast and Fu­ri­ous in­ves­ti­ga­tion had been “walked” to drug smug­glers in Mex­ico.

At least two of those weapons, AK-47 as­sault ri­fles, turned up at the site of the fa­tal shoot­ing of U.S. Bor­der Pa­trol Agent Brian A. Terry, killed by Mex­i­can ban­dits just north of No­gales, Ariz.

Rep. Dar­rell E. Issa, Cal­i­for­nia Repub­li­can and chair­man of the House Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee, called the re­as­sign­ments a step for­ward, but said he and Sen. Charles E. Grass­ley of Iowa, rank­ing Repub­li­can on the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee, will con­tinue to in­ves­ti­gate the op­er­a­tion.

“While the reck­less disregard for safety that took place in Op­er­a­tion Fast and Fu­ri­ous cer­tainly mer­its changes within the Depart­ment of Jus­tice, the Over­sight and Gov­ern­ment Re­form Com­mit­tee will con­tinue its in­ves­ti­ga­tion to en­sure that blame isn’t off­loaded on just a few in­di­vid­u­als for a mat­ter that in­volved much higher lev­els of the Jus­tice Depart­ment,” Mr. Issa said.

“There are still many ques­tions to be an­swered about what hap­pened in Op­er­a­tion Fast and Fu­ri­ous and who else bears re­spon­si­bil­ity, but these changes are war­ranted and of­fer an op­por­tu­nity for the Jus­tice Depart­ment to ex­plain the role other of­fi­cials and of­fices played in the in­fa­mous ef­for ts to al­low weapons to flow to Mex­i­can drug car­tels,” he said.

The Cal­i­for­nian said he re­mained “very con­cerned” about a state­ment by Mr. Mel­son to in­ves­ti­ga­tors dur­ing a re­cent se­cret week­end ses­sion that the Jus­tice Depart­ment was man­ag­ing its re­sponse in a man­ner in­tended to pro­tect its po­lit­i­cal ap­pointees.

He said he and Mr. Grass­ley would con­tinue to press the de- part­ment for an­swers “to en­sure that a reck­less ef­fort like Fast and Fu­ri­ous does not take place again.”

Mr. Grass­ley de­scribed the re­as­sign­ments as “an ad­mis­sion” by the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion that se­ri­ous mis­takes were made in the op­er­a­tion.

“There’s a lot of blame to go around. As our in­ves­ti­ga­tion moves for­ward, and we get to the bot­tom of this pol­icy, I wouldn’t be sur­prised to see more fall­out be­yond the res­ig­na­tions and new as­sign­ments an­nounced to­day,” he said. “The Jus­tice Depart­ment and the ATF have yet to an­swer a ma­jor­ity of the ques­tions and still must pro­duce many of the doc­u­ments Con­gress­man Issa and I have asked for.

“We’re look­ing for a full ac­count­ing from the Jus­tice Depart­ment as to who knew what and when, so we can be sure that this ill-ad­vised strat­egy never hap­pens again,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Repub­li­can and a Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee mem­ber, said that in­stead of re­as­sign­ing those re­spon­si­ble for Fast and Fu­ri­ous, At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric H. Holder Jr. “should ask for their res­ig­na­tions and come clean on all al­leged gun-walk­ing op­er­a­tions, in­clud­ing a de­tailed re­sponse to al­le­ga­tions of a Texas-based scheme.”

Ear­lier in Au­gust, Mr. Cornyn asked Mr. Holder to ex­plain press re­ports of sus­pected Tex­as­based “gun-walk­ing” pro­grams sim­i­lar to Fast and Fu­ri­ous. To date, he said, Mr. Holder has re­fused to re­spond.

The Cit­i­zens Com­mit­tee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which claims 650,000 mem­bers, de­nounced Mr. Holder’s han­dling of the case and called the per­son­nel shuf­fle “a po­lit­i­cal cha­rade by the man who re­ally ought to ten­der his res­ig­na­tion.”

The group’s chair­man, Alan Got­tlieb, said Mr. Holder was try­ing to “con­vince peo­ple he is tak­ing action” in an op­er­a­tion be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Congress.

“Holder is just mov­ing deck chairs on the Ti­tanic,” Mr. Got­tlieb said. “To­day’s an­nounce­ments will do noth­ing to re­store Amer­ica’s con­fi­dence in the BATF or the Jus­tice Depart­ment so long as Eric Holder re­mains the at­tor­ney gen­eral. The ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for Fast and Fu­ri­ous lies with Holder.

“There has been no dis­ci­pline and no ac­count­abil­ity, be­cause the man who should be ul­ti­mately ac­count­able is still run­ning the Jus­tice Depart­ment,” he said.

Mr. Holder, in an­nounc­ing the changes, said that as a sea­soned prose­cu­tor and for­mer mil­i­tary judge ad­vo­cate, Mr. Jones is a “demon­strated leader who brings a wealth of ex­pe­ri­ence to this po­si­tion.”

“I have great con­fi­dence that he will be a strong and steady in­flu­ence guid­ing ATF in ful­fill­ing its mis­sion of com­bat­ing vi­o­lent crime by en­forc­ing fed­eral crim­i­nal laws and reg­u­la­tions in the firearms and ex­plo­sives in­dus­tries,” Mr. Holder said.

Mr. Jones, a for­mer U.S. Marine, takes over as act­ing ATF di­rec­tor. A Jus­tice Depart­ment vet­eran, he has served as U.S. at­tor­ney for the District of Min­nesota un­der two pres­i­den­tial ad­min­is­tra­tions. He first served from 1998 to 2001 and was nom­i­nated again in 2009 by Pres­i­dent Obama.

With re­gard to Mr. Burke, Mr. Holder said the Ari­zona prose­cu­tor had “demon­strated an un­wa­ver­ing com­mit­ment to the Depart­ment of Jus­tice and the U.S. at­tor­ney’s of­fice, first as a line prose­cu­tor over a decade ago and more re­cently as U.S. at­tor­ney.

“Un­der his lead­er­ship, the of­fice has made great progress in its pur­suit of jus­tice with the cre­ation of spe­cial units fo­cus­ing on civil rights en­force­ment and rule of law, as well as more ro­bust out­reach to key com­mu­ni­ties, par­tic­u­larly in In­dian Coun­try,” he said. “The of­fice’s quick re­sponse to the dev­as­tat­ing shoot­ings in Jan­uary that claimed the lives of sev­eral peo­ple and crit­i­cally in­jured Con­gress­woman Gabrielle Gif­fords was cru­cial in ar­rest­ing and charg­ing the al­leged shooter.”

Mr. Mel­son, in a state­ment, said he was con­fi­dent his con­tin­ued work at the Jus­tice Depart­ment would con­trib­ute to ATF’s pur­suit and pros­e­cu­tion of vi­o­lent crim­i­nals.

“ATF em­ploy­ees are hard­work­ing and ded­i­cated to the mis­sion of pro­tect­ing the pub­lic ev­ery day, and in my time here I have seen first­hand their ex­tra­or­di­nary com­mit­ment to stop­ping vi­o­lent crime,” he said.

Mr. Holder said Mr. Mel­son brought “decades of ex­pe­ri­ence at the depart­ment and ex­ten­sive knowl­edge in foren­sic science to his new role and I know he will be a valu­able con­trib­u­tor on these is­sues.”

The Fast and Fu­ri­ous op­er­a­tion drew wide­spread crit­i­cism, sparking ques­tions on who out- side the agency knew that weapons were be­ing taken from straw buy­ers in this coun­try to Mex­ico. Mr. Obama has said he did not au­tho­rize the pro­gram, and Mr. Holder also has pleaded ig­no­rance, call­ing for an in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the Jus­tice Depart­ment’s of­fice of in­spec­tor gen­eral.

Mr. Issa said the con­se­quences of arm­ing Mex­i­can drug car­tels seemed ob­vi­ous, but as the weapons kept turn­ing up at crime scenes in Mex­ico, there

The Cit­i­zens Com­mit­tee for the Right to Keep and Bear Arms, which claims 650,000 mem­bers, de­nounced At­tor­ney Gen­eral Eric Holder’s han­dling of the case and called the per­son­nel shuf­fle “a po­lit­i­cal cha­rade by the man who re­ally ought to ten­der his res­ig­na­tion.” The group’s chair­man, Alan Got­tlieb, said Mr. Holder was try­ing to “con­vince peo­ple he is tak­ing action” in an op­er­a­tion be­ing in­ves­ti­gated by Congress. “Holder is just mov­ing deck chairs on the Ti­tanic,” Mr. Got­tlieb said. “To­day’s an­nounce­ments will do noth­ing to re­store Amer­ica’s con­fi­dence in the BATF or the Jus­tice Depart­ment so long as Eric Holder re­mains the at­tor­ney gen­eral. The ul­ti­mate re­spon­si­bil­ity for Fast and Fu­ri­ous lies with Holder.”

“wasn’t enough for Jus­tice Depart­ment of­fi­cials to ar­rest straw pur­chasers and shut down their traf­fick­ing op­er­a­tions.”

At least 122 weapons linked to Fast and Fu­ri­ous have been re­cov­ered at crime scenes in Mex­ico, ac­cord­ing to a re­port by Mr. Issa and Mr. Grass­ley. More than 1,000 weapons are still un­ac­counted for, the re­port said, in­clud­ing AK-47 as­sault ri­fles, Bar­rett .50-cal­iber sniper ri­fles, .38-cal­iber revolvers and FN-57 semi­au­to­matic pis­tols.

AS­SO­CI­ATED PRESS

Tak­ing over: B. Todd Jones, U.S. At­tor­ney for Min­nesota, will re­place Ken­neth E. Mel­son as the Bureau of Al­co­hol, To­bacco, Firearms and Ex­plo­sives’ act­ing di­rec­tor fol­low­ing a gun sale con­tro­versy.

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