ATF Acting Director Ken Melson will no longer be acting like a director, according to a report from CBS News:
ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson is being moved out of the top job at the Bureau, ATF Special Agents in Charge announced during a conference call with reporters today. It’s not yet publicly known where he would go, but sources inside the Justice Department believe one option is a transfer to a position at Department of Justice headquarters. The Justice Department had no immediate comment, and did not confirm the move.
Melson’s move would be another in a number of high-level personnel shifts, as the Inspector General continues investigating the so-called gunwalker scandal at the Justice Department and the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms.
A report at Politico says Melson will become a “senior adviser on forensic science” at the Office of Legal Policy, and was treated cordially in a statement from Attorney General Eric Holder:
“Ken brings decades of experience at the department and extensive knowledge in forensic science to his new role and I know he will be a valuable contributor on these issues,” Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement. “As he moves into this new role, I want to thank Ken for his dedication to the department over the last three decades.”
Melson’s replacement is B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota. Jones “is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position,” Holder said. “I have great confidence that he will be a strong and steady influence guiding ATF in fulfilling its mission of combating violent crime by enforcing federal criminal laws and regulations in the firearms and explosives industries.”
Maybe the ATF can even get a permanent director someday. “Temporary” leadership lasting for years doesn’t seem to have worked out terribly well.
Melson is well-known to students of the massive “Gun Walker” scandal, in which the ATF pushed American guns across the border into the hands of Mexican gangs. He was long viewed as the designated fall guy for the Administration, and was widely expected to resign and contain the damage when the scandal broke.
Instead, Melson wound up testifying before congressional investigators, in a surprise Fourth of July appearance. He went on to complain that the Justice Department had misled him about right to testify without DOJ supervision.
Rep. Darrell Issa and Senator Charles Grassley, the lead investigators of the Gun Walker case, were not happy that “Justice Department officials sought to limit and control [Melson’s] communications with Congress.” They went on to warn Attorney General Eric Holder against attempting to retaliate against Melson, or other Gun Walker witnesses.
It’s not clear how enthusiastic Melson might be for his new job. The Politico report notes that despite his cooperation, the House Oversight investigation into Gun Walker didn’t make him look good:
Melson took the top spot at the ATF on an interim basis in 2009 and oversaw the execution of Fast and Furious, an effort that was aimed at rooting out gun smugglers selling weapons to Mexican cartels. Ultimately, the ATF lost track of as many as 2,000 guns that were sold during the operation, including two that were found near the scene of the killing of a Border Patrol agent.
An investigation of the operation by the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee found emails showing that Melson was regularly informed of the problems with the investigation.
Michelle Malkin has a statement from Rep. Issa about the Melson career move:
While the reckless disregard for safety that took place in Operation Fast and Furious certainly merits changes within the Department of Justice, 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.
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. Senator Grassley and I will continue to press the Department of Justice for answers in order to ensure that a reckless effort like Fast and Furious does not take place again.
It’s important to note that Melson wasn’t really “fired.” Nobody responsible for Gun Walker has been fired. Accountability remains something that investigators must impose upon this disaster. I doubt Issa and Grassley will have much trouble finding Ken Melson’s new office.
Update: Fox News reports on more “Fast and Furious” shake-up action:
Fox News also learned from multiple sources that U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke, one of the officials closely tied to Fast and Furious, is also a casualty in a shakeup tied to the botched gun-running program. Burke was on the hot seat last week with congressional investigators, and according to several sources, got physically sick during questioning and could not finish his session.
The purge of those responsible for the firearms trafficking scandal continued as new documents reveal a deeper involvement of federal agencies beyond ATF.
In Phoenix, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, who oversaw Fast and Furious on a day-to-day basis, was reassigned from the criminal to civil division. Also in Phoenix, three out of the four whistleblowers involved in the case have been reassigned to new positions outside Arizona. Two are headed to Florida, one to South Carolina.
Hurley’s reassignment came after three ATF supervisors responsible for the operation were promoted. William G. McMahon, a former deputy director of operations, took over the Office of Professional Responsibility. Field supervisors William D. Newell and David Voth, also moved up despite heavy criticism.