Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives Acting Director Todd Jones told agents in a recent instructional video that there will be “consequences” if concerns with ATF leadership are “not voiced in the appropriate way.” Republican lawmakers are now demanding to know what the comments mean.
Jones also warned agents against circumventing the organization’s “chain of command,” in a possible reference to ATF whistleblower John Dodson, whose complaints to Congress ignited the Fast and Furious scandal. Dodson, as described in a six-month investigation by Fortune magazine, was a disgruntled agent who chafed against authority and misrepresented the complexities of the effort to stop the flow of U.S.-purchased guns over the Mexican border. Republicans, however, say his whistle-blowing helped end a botched gun-tracing probe connected to the death of a Border Patrol agent.
“Should you decide not to abide by the standard of conduct or the rules of the road … if you don’t abide by the rules, if you don’t respect the chain of command, if you don’t find the appropriate way to raise your corner to your leadership there will be consequences,” Jones said in the video. ”We cannot tolerate an undisciplined organization. ”
The comment drew the attention of Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.). Issa’s probe of the gun operation eventually led to the House finding Attorney General Eric Holder in contempt of Congress.
“On numerous occasions, we have stressed to ATF and the Department of Justice the importance of protecting whistleblower disclosures and preventing retaliation against whistleblowers,” the lawmakers said in a letter to Jones. “Your ominous message–which could be interpreted as a threat–is likely to have a major chilling effect on ATF employees exercising their rights to contact Congress.”
Grassley, long the champion of whistleblower protections, says ATF employees have a right to provide Congress with information.
“Sometimes it is necessary to address concerns outside the chain of command, and those kinds of disclosures are protected by law and should be threatened with unspecified ‘consequences,’ ” Grassley and Issa wrote. “ATF managers should be required to resoect protected whistleblower disclosures and held accountable when they do not.
Dodson has drawn attention from the media himself. After Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was killed in a 2010 shootout in which two guns from the failed Fast and Furious operation were found, Dodson went on CBS News and alleged his supervisors had intentionally allowed the guns to fall into the hands of Mexican drug cartels. The Fortune story, however, paints a more nuanced picture, of agents being hampered by weak guns laws and a timid prosecutor who wouldn’t allow them to interdict more guns without proof that straw buyers had violated the law.
The Justice Department appointed Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones to the acting director position last year after former ATF director Kenneth Melson was ousted amid the political firestorm. Fast and Furious was an attempt to link guns purchased in the U.S. by straw buyers to their suspected end users, Mexican drug cartels. But in trying to get the evidence to build criminal cases, ATF lost track of hundreds of guns.
Sens. Grassley and Issa have asked Jones to respond by July 25th.