On Tuesday, June 11, the U.S. Senate Judiciary Committee is scheduled to commence hearings on the confirmation of B. Todd Jones as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF. It is expected that the hearing will focus primarily on Jones’ performance as acting director over the past 18 months, and allegations of mistreatment of a whistleblower in his U.S. attorney’s office – but The Firearms Coalition (the organization I direct) is calling for the hearings to focus on the ATF’s debacle known as Operation Fast and Furious and indications that Jones might have been in on the meeting where that felony-stupid plan was concocted.
Jones, the United States attorney for Minnesota, was appointed acting director of ATF in August of 2011. He held both jobs concurrently. His interim appointment was part of the damage control that took place at ATF after exposure of Operation Fast and Furious – the ill-conceived program that allowed some 2,000 AR15s, AK47s and other firearms to be illegally purchased and smuggled into Mexico where they were used in that nation’s infamous drug wars. The stated purpose of the operation was to track the guns into Mexico and thereby to reveal the illegal trafficking networks of Mexican drug cartels. The operation was exposed after one of those guns was used by Mexican bandits to murder U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry.
Jones, who is a long-time friend and confidant of Attorney General Eric Holder, was brought in as acting director with orders to get the troubled agency stabilized after the scandal. He was tapped in January to take over the agency on a permanent basis.
Conventional wisdom holds that, since Republicans have finally agreed to move forward with confirmation hearings, the Democratic majority in the Senate will be able to carry Jones through. But the process won’t be a smooth one. The accusations from a subordinate in Jones’ U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota, charging Jones with mismanagement and retaliation against a whistleblower, have tarnished the former Marine’s reputation as a “stand-up guy.” There have also been concerns expressed about some comments Jones made in an official video to ATF employees which were interpreted by some to be a threat to whistleblowers in that agency. Jones quickly issued a clarification, saying that was not his intent, but the damage was already done.
More important, however, are questions of Jones’ involvement in a group that might have come up with the original plan for Fast and Furious, and what he has done, and not done, to clean up ATF since taking the helm. While he did make a number of reassignments and accepted a few resignations, there has never been a full accounting of how exactly the operation came into being and who exactly was involved – and responsible.
The critical question we at The Firearms Coalition want answered involves a meeting of the Attorney General’s Southwest Border Strategy Group.
A report from the DOJ Office of the Inspector General came out criticizing ATF for failing to make cases against higher-level players in the Mexican cartels’ gun trafficking operations instead of just arresting lowly straw-purchasers. The AG’s Southwest Border Strategy Group was tasked with developing plans to rectify that situation. Not long after this big meeting, Fast and Furious began.
We believe that it is highly probable that the idea of allowing guns to “walk” – to ostensibly expose and arrest higher-level players in gun trafficking operation – was developed, or at least discussed, during this meeting of the AG’s Southwest Border Strategy Group.
The few documents that have been released about the meeting have been heavily redacted. Even the names of individuals in attendance were blacked-out. But we found a reference to the attendance of the chairman of another group, the AG’s Advisory Committee. At that time, the chairman of the AG’s Advisory Committee was B. Todd Jones.
The Ranking Republican member of the Senate Judiciary Committee is Charles Grassley. He also happens to be the senator most active in the investigation of Fast and Furious. Sen. Grassley caused a delay in the confirmation hearings because, he said, Jones and ATF were not being forthcoming with certain documents Grassley feels are important for senators to grasp Jones’ involvement in Fast and Furious and his actions regarding holding people accountable for that fiasco.
We hope that among the documents Grassley is seeking are the minutes for this important meeting of the AG’s Southwest Border Strategy Group. If not, we strongly urge Sen. Grassley to add those minutes to his request list, and we urge concerned citizens to contact Sen. Grassley and other members of the Judiciary Committee to insist that they get definitive answers as to exactly what B. Todd Jones knew about Fast and Furious prior to December 2010 (when Brian Terry was murdered) and what exactly he has done to hold those responsible for that debacle accountable for their actions.
Information about contacting senators is posted at www.FirearmsCoalition.org.