Kenneth Melson, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), lost his job amid a Congressional probe over a troubled gun-trafficking operation.
Melson, who becomes Senior Advisor on forensic science in the Office of Legal Policy (OLP) on Aug.31, would be replaced by Todd Jones. Jones, who was the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, would assume the role of ATF acting director on Aug. 31, 2011.
As a seasoned prosecutor and former military judge advocate, U.S. Attorney Jones is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position, said Attorney General Eric Holder. 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.
In addition, U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona Dennis Burke has also resigned.
United States Attorney Dennis Burke has demonstrated an unwavering commitment to the Department of Justice and the U.S. Attorney's office, first as a line prosecutor over a decade ago and more recently as United States Attorney, Holder said.
Both Melson and Burke were the key officials overseeing an ATF operation called Fast and Furious, which was designed to track small-time gun buyers to make cases against major Mexican drug cartel organizations.
The operation, which was part of Project Gunrunner, started in the fall of 2009 and ended in late 2010 shortly after the death of Brian Terry, a US Border Patrol Agent and has since become the subject of controversy and a U.S. congressional probe.
It was alleged that during the operation, ATF facilitated the sale of at least 2,000 guns knowing that it would be trafficked to Mexico. Of the 2,000 guns, only 600 are reported as recovered by officials.
A June report released by the United States House of Representatives Committee on Oversight and Government Reform showed that:
* Dept. of Justice (DOJ) and ATF inappropriately and recklessly relied on a 20-year-old ATF Order to allow guns to walk. DOJ and ATF knew from an early date that guns were being trafficked to the Drug Trafficking Organizations.
* ATF agents are trained to follow the gun and interdict weapons whenever possible. Operation Fast and Furious required agents to abandon this training.
* ATF agents complained about the strategy of allowing guns to walk in Operation Fast and Furious. The ladership ignored their concerns. Instead, supervisors told the agents to get with the program because senior ATF officials had sanctioned the operation.
* Agents knew that given the large numbers of weapons being trafficked to Mexico, tragic results were a near certainty.
However, the management shakeup may not end the issue. House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa released the following statement regarding DoJ personnel changes:
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.
Issa said there are still many questions to be answered about what happened in the Operation Fast and Furious and who else bears responsibility, but these changes are warranted and offer an opportunity for the Justice Dept. to explain the role other officials and offices played in the infamous efforts to allow weapons to flow to Mexican drug cartels.