The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms And Explosives (ATF) and the U.S. Attorney for Arizona have resigned their posts in the wake of a scandal involving a program aimed at stopping gun trafficking on the Mexican border. ATF Director Ken Melson and U.S. Attorney Dennis Burke announced their resignations on Tuesday.
An Obama administration official told TPM that the White House and Justice Department were not prejudging the investigations of Operation Fast and Furious being conducted by DOJ’s Inspector General and the House Oversight Committee. But the official said that both ATF and the federal prosecutor’s office in Arizona had critical public safety missions they needed to carry out and that it was important for proper leadership to be in place.
B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, will take over ATF on an acting basis, the Justice Department announced. An administration official said he’d continue to simultaneously serve as U.S. attorney, a set-up that had precedent in the Bush administration.
Melson will go from heading an agency with 5,000 employees to serving as a senior advisor on forensic science in DOJ’s Office of Legal Policy, where he’ll have none.
“ATF employees are hard working 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,” Melson said in a statement announcing his resignation. “I will miss working with them, but know that my continued work at the Department will contribute in their pursuit and prosecution of violent criminals.”
Burke, a former senior advisor to Homeland Security Secretary Janet Napolitano, submitted his letter of resignation to President Barack Obama.
“My long tenure in public service has been intensely gratifying,” he said in a statement. “It has also been intensely demanding. For me, it is the right time to move on to pursue other aspects of my career and my life and allow the office to move ahead.”
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA) said in a statement that 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.”
“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 efforts to allow weapons to flow to Mexican drug cartels,” Issa said.
“I also remain very concerned by Acting Director Melson’s statement that the Department of Justice is managing its response in a manner intended to protect its political appointees,” Issa said.
“There’s a lot of blame to go around,” said Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa). “As our investigation moves forward, and we get to the bottom of this policy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more fall out beyond the resignations and new assignments announced today.”
“In their interviews with the Committee, Mr. Melson and Mr. Burke both acknowledged that mistakes were made and that Operation Fast and Furious lacked adequate protections for public safety,” Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-MD) said in a statement. “Fresh leadership will allow ATF to move forward and focus on its vital mission of enforcing our nation’s gun laws.”