Gun Laws & Legislation

New director, same old direction at the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives

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By David Codrea, Guns Magazine

“He was confirmed,” a member using the screen name Jaime3 announced on the CleanUpATF “whistleblower” forum. That’s the website established by so-called “dissident” agents fed up with bureau waste, abuse, corruption and fraud. And it’s the same discussion board where, back in December, 2010, it was first leaked that guns were being “walked” to Mexico with ATF cognizance, and that some of those had been found at the murder scene of a Border Patrol agent.

The “he” who was confirmed, on the last day of July by a 53-42 vote, was ATF Acting Director B. Todd Jones, now the bureau’s first permanent director in seven years. The confirmation vote came after a bit of drama. Bowing to pressure, and no doubt politically relieved by NRA’s statement of neutrality on Jones, Alaska’s Lisa Murkowski switched her vote on cloture, giving the Senate 59 of the 60 votes it needed to end debate on the nomination. And five hours after the cloture voting began, Heidi Heitkamp, reportedly recovering from illness, flew in from North Dakota to cast the one remaining vote needed to give the nominee his up or down majority vote.

Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley was not happy. A leader in championing whistleblowers and trying to get to the bottom of numerous ATF scandals, he’d opposed advancing the Jones nomination, in no small part due to unsatisfactory answers the candidate had provided in a committee hearing the month before.

“The vote today should have never happened,” Grassley complained in a statement after Jones was confirmed. “It was totally irresponsible to proceed before the Office of Special Counsel investigation was completed … It’s too bad that … a person who is alleged to have retaliated against a whistleblower is now the director of an agency that could use a lot more whistleblowers to help clean it up.”

Add to Grassley’s concerns revelations from insider sources that Jones does not make a move without a green light from ATF’s Chief Counsel’s Office, itself tainted with ethical violations revealed in an internal report. Embarrassing “sweetheart deals” have been made on his watch. He has treated criminal matters resulting in lost human lives as personnel issues. He has not even attempted to clear up a gamut of institutional problems plaguing those ATF regulates, including contradictory rulings, inaccurate records, arbitrary license revocations and the like.

Rewarding such a manager with even more power seems a puzzler—until you remember that Obama and Holder want him to have it. So it’s hardly surprising to see yet another Jones management decision head-scratcher, published two days before the new director was confirmed.

“The ATF leader who oversaw a botched undercover operation in Milwaukee will now be in charge of the agency’s embattled Phoenix office, where agents allowed more than 2,000 guns to walk into the hands of suspected criminals through the infamous ‘Operation Fast and Furious,’” the Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel reported.

Jones had cited the Privacy Act and refused to answer specifics when challenged about the pending appointment by Grassley during his confirmation hearings.

But really: What could go wrong?

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