ATF Director Linked to Fast & Furious Scandal Steps Down

Yesterday, the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives announced that Kenneth Melson would be stepping down from his position as Acting Director. 

In a press release the ATF explained the reason for Melson’s departure: “he is leaving the agency to become Senior Advisor to the Assistant Attorney General for the Office of Legal Policy (OLP) where he will specialize in forensic science policy issues at the Department of Justice.” 

Conspicuously absent from the explanation was any mention of the controversial Operation: Fast & Furious, a botched ATF gun-tracking operation that permitted approximately 2,000 firearms to cross the U.S.-Mexico border untracked and undetected. 

A sizable portion of those untracked firearms have ended up in the hands of infamous Mexican drug cartels and, as a result, have been popping up at crime scenes all across Mexico.  Also, it should be noted that the majority of those firearms have not been recovered and two of those weapons are linked to the death of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brain Terry.

Melson oversaw Operation: Fast & Furious. 

In a press conference, Melson said, “ATF employees are hard working and dedicated to the mission of protecting the public every day, and in my time here I have seen firsthand their extraordinary commitment to stopping violent crime.”  He added,  “I will miss working with them, but know that my continued work at the Department will contribute in their pursuit and prosecution of violent criminals.”

Melson isn’t the only individual connected to Operation: Fast & Furious that is moving on.  Dennis Burke, a U.S. Attorney who was in charge of prosecuting individuals connected to gun running has also resigned.

Some believe Melson saw the writing on the wall after Congressional investigators uncovered a series of internal blunders made by the ATF as a result of their minimal surveillance and non-interdiction tactics. 

Critics of Melson point to the fact that in the weeks leading up to this announcement, Melson made sure to take care of his own.  That is, around mid-August, Melson promoted three ATF supervisors who were directly involved with Operation: Fast & Furious, citing their “skills and abilities they have demonstrated throughout their careers,” as a reason for their new positions.  

As far as showing culpability for the failed operation, Melson and Burke have admitted to congressional investigators, “mistakes were made and that Operation Fast and Furious lacked adequate protections for public safety. Fresh leadership will allow ATF to move forward and focus on its vital mission of enforcing our nation’s gun laws,” according to Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), the top Democrat on the investigation committee. 

However, no public apology has been made. 

Many are incensed with the reassignments. Sen. John Cornyn (R-Texas), told reporters, “Instead of reassigning those responsible for Fast and Furious within the Department of Justice,” Cornyn said, “Atty. Gen. Holder should ask for their resignations and come clean on all alleged gun-walking operations, including a detailed response to allegations of a Texas-based scheme.”

A replacement for Melson has already been announced.  The Department of Justice appointed U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, B. Todd Jones, to serve as Acting Director of the ATF. 

Attorney General Eric Holder said in a statement, 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, 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.”