The chairman of the House Judiciary Committee is questioning whether B. Todd Jones, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives can do an effective job of leading the beleaguered agency as long as he remains U.S. Attorney in Minnesota.
“While U.S. Attorneys have served as acting directors of ATF in the past, the currently embattled agency requires more dedicated leadership,” Rep. Lamar Smith (R-Texas), wrote in a letter Friday to Attorney General Eric Holder.
The ATF is under fire for a troubled gun operation known as Operation Fast and Furious, which allegedly resulted in at least 2,000 firearms being sold to straw buyers, who resold them to drug cartel members in Arizona. The ATF then allegedly allowed the guns to be taken Mexico, where the bureau lost track of them. Two guns from the operation were recovered in December at the scene of a shootout between Border Patrol agents and Mexican bandits near Rio Rico, Ariz., that ended in the death of Border Patrol agent Brian A. Terry. Other firearms sold during the operation have been linked to scenes of violent crime in Mexico.
The gun probe led to the transfer of then-Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson. Jones was then selected to replace Melson as acting director, but Holder said he would also remain as U.S. Attorney.
Smith said he is troubled with that decision, since under federal law, Jones must remain as a Minnesota resident and likely will have to spend a significant portion of his time in that state.
It has been gun rights advocates in the Senate–largely Republicans–who have held up confirmation of ATF directors. Temporary appointees have led ATF since a 2006 law gave the Senate the authority to confirm the director. And during the George W. Bush administration, Michael Sullivan served as U.S. Attorney in Massachusetts and as acting ATF head.
In his letter to Holder, Smith also said that the mere transfer of Melson and a few others will not calm the congressional drumbeat over Fast and Furious. “Congressional interest will continue until we fully understand who authorized the failed program and how a federal agency could allow such decision-making to occurr,” he wrote in the letter to Holder. He also said that the DOJ has failed to answer questions about the operation raised by congressional investigators.
DOJ officials had no immediate comment on Smith’s letter. They have repeatedly said that the DOJ’s Inspector General is investigating Fast and Furious.