Under Scrutiny For 'Fast And Furious,' ATF Announces New Leader

Aug 30, 2011

Justice Department officials announced Tuesday that the troubled Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has a new leader. Officials handpicked Minnesota's top federal prosecutor, B. Todd Jones, to serve as the bureau's acting director.

Jones is a former military judge advocate with broad experience in sensitive cases. And that could come in handy at the ATF, which is under intense scrutiny from Republicans in Congress over a failed gun trafficking investigation called Fast and Furious. The agency was supposed to be stopping the flow of guns to Mexico, but instead agents sometimes lost track of assault weapons that later turned up at crime scenes on both sides of the Southwest border.

Jones will serve as acting director of the ATF, and he won't give up his Senate confirmed job as the U.S. attorney in Minnesota. The ATF position requires Senate confirmation, too, but no nominee has gotten a successful vote in years because of fights in Congress about gun policy. Kenneth E. Melson, who had been leading the ATF on an interim basis since 2009, has been named a senior advisor on forensic science issues in the Justice Department's Office of Legal Policy.

Attorney General Eric Holder said he has "great confidence that (Jones) will be a strong and steady influence guiding ATF." Holder also thanked Melson for his service and said he would be a "valuable contributor" on forensic issues. Melson is a past president of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences.

Sen. John Cornyn (R-Tex.) signaled in a written statement that a change at the top of ATF won't make the climate any easier. "Instead of reassigning those responsible for Fast and Furious within the Department of Justice, Attorney General Holder should ask for their resignations and come clean on all alleged gun walking operations...," Cornyn said.

Copyright 2011 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.