President Barack Obama intends to nominate B. Todd Jones to serve as the permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, a post that Jones has held on an interim basis since 2011.
Obama’s plans came during his much-anticipated speech this morning as he unveiled a number of gun reforms in the wake of the deadly shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary and Newtown, Ct.
ATF has been without a permanent director for six years, in large part because of Senate Republican objections to past candidates. In 2011, then-acting Director Ken Melson was forced to step down over the botched gun-walking operation Fast and Furious.
Attorney General Eric Holder appointed Jones, a longtime federal prosecutor, to serve as the interim chief as a means of stabilizing the agency. Since his appointment, Jones has been pulling double duty still handling his duties as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota.
Jones has not yet been formally nominated, but once he is he will continue his duties as interim chief of ATF and Minnesota U.S. Attorney. If he is confirmed by the Senate, he would have to leave his post in Minnesota. Obama would then have to nominate someone to succeed Jones as Minnesota U.S. Attorney.
The ATF director position has been subject to Senate confirmation since 2006. Pro-Second Amendment Senate Republicans, objecting to ATF’s role, have never allowed anyone to be confirmed for the post. Obama’s nominee, Andrew Traver, was blocked by Republicans in the Senate and went nowhere.
Jones served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota under President Bill Clinton from 1998 to 2001 and under Obama since 2009. He has also served as chair of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, a U.S. Attorney group that advises Holder on management and operational issues.
Jones took some heat from Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa) last summer after a video he made for employees about abiding by ATF rules was circulated outside the agency. Grassley, the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, wrote Jones saying his comments about following the ATF “chain of command” were “ominous” and could be “interpreted as a threat.”
Jones responded to Grassley, saying the video was “designed to reinforce and highlight the importance of accountability at all levels of ATF to [promote] safe and efficient federal law enforcement.” Jones said that concerns about lack of accountability within the ranks of ATF was the No. 1 concern he heard from agents in the field since his appointment.
Today, Grassley again made clear his reservations about Jones.
“A Senate confirmed head of the ATF would be beneficial, but if the Justice Department leadership, including the Attorney General, does its job, there should be plenty of accountability for the ATF,” Grassley said in a statement. ”…The new nominee, B. Todd Jones, is a familiar face to the committee, but his ties to the Fast and Furious scandal raise serious questions.”
UPDATED 3:45 p.m.: This story has been updated to include statements from Sen. Charles Grassley.