WASHINGTON – B. Todd Jones, the acting director of the ATF who took over the agency in its meltdown with the Fast and Furious scandal, ran into immediate opposition Tuesday as he appeared before the Senate Judiciary Committee for consideration as permanent director.
Republicans sought to block or delay the appointment until an internal investigation can be completed of Jones’ performance as the U.S. attorney in Minnesota.
Indeed, since Jones was nominated late last year to head the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, his chances of success have been difficult to gauge. No one has made it to the post since 2006, when the job was made subject to Senate confirmation and the National Rifle Assn. started vigorously opposing a series of nominees.
“I think that’s wrong,” said Sen. Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat from Minnesota, suggesting the NRA and other critics have hijacked the confirmation process. “Something is wrong when we have over 2,000 ATF agents on the front lines of a major investigation like the Boston Marathon bombing, figuring out who did it and what happened, and yet the Senate still won’t confirm a permanent member of this agency.”
But Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, the panel’s ranking Republican, said Jones has been accused of gross mismanagement and retaliation against his staff in the federal prosecutor’s office in Minnesota, allegations the Department of Justice’s Office of Special Counsel is investigating. “These are serious charges,” he said. “The public interest demands resolution of these issues.”
He urged the committee to delay a confirmation vote until the investigation is completed. Otherwise, he said, “we’re left today to take Mr. Jones’ word and have no way of independently verifying what he says.”
Jones said that when he took over in September 2011 as acting director in the midst of the Fast and Furious scandal, “I found an organization in distress.” He said he appointed 22 new special agents to run ATF field offices, assigned 23 new executives to ATF headquarters, ordered a “top-to-bottom” review of the agency and “overhauled nearly 50 orders and directives.”
He said none of the managers who worked in Arizona and Washington on Fast and Furious, the failed gun-tracking operation on the Southwest Border, kept their jobs.
“We knew there was a failure in leadership,” he said.
As to complaints about his management of the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota, Jones said he has not been interviewed by the Office of Special Counsel and declined to provide other details because of privacy concerns.
“I have always taken very serious the duty my office has to follow all the laws and regulations,” he said, denying ever “taking adverse actions against anyone I worked with.... I was quite surprised by the nature of the allegations.”
But he said when he became U.S. attorney in 2009, he made many staff adjustments. “Quite frankly I’ve been an agent of change, and change at times is hard to deal with. Sometimes folks are not happy with the direction overall,” he said.