ATF replaces director amid weapons probe

**FILE** Kenneth E. Melson, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), speaks at a news conference in Houston in April 2009. (Associated Press)
**FILE** Kenneth E. Melson, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), speaks at a news conference in Houston in April 2009. (Associated Press)
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The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF), who got caught this year in a firestorm over the Fast and Furious undercover gun investigation, was reassigned Tuesday and will be replaced by U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones of Minnesota.

Kenneth E. Melson, whose last day on the job was the close of business Tuesday, reports Wednesday to the Justice Department’s office of legal programs, where he will assume a lesser role as senior adviser on forensic science.

Also on Tuesday, U.S. Attorney Dennis K. Burke in Arizona, who oversaw all federal prosecutions in the state, resigned, and Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, the lead prosecutor in the Fast and Furious investigation, was reassigned from the criminal division to the civil division.

The three Justice Department officials came under heavy criticism this year when two top Re<t-5>publican lawmakers discovered that hundreds of weapons sold to straw buyers in the Fast and Furious investigation had been “walked” to drug smugglers in Mexico.

At least two of those weapons, AK-47 assault rifles, turned up at the site of the fatal shooting of U.S. Border Patrol Agent Brian A. Terry, killed by Mexican bandits just north of Nogales, Ariz.

Rep. Darrell E. Issa, California Republican and chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee, called the reassignments a step forward, but said he and Sen. Charles E. Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee, will continue to investigate the operation.

“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,” Mr. Issa said.

“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,” he said.

The Californian said he remained “very concerned” about a statement by Mr. Melson to investigators during a secret weekend session that the Justice Department was managing its response in a manner intended to protect its political appointees.

He said he and Mr. Grassley would continue to press the department for answers “to ensure that a reckless effort like Fast and Furious does not take place again.”

Mr. Grassley described the reassignments as “an admission” by the Obama administration that serious mistakes were made in the operation.

“There’s a lot of blame to go around. As our investigation moves forward, and we get to the bottom of this policy, I wouldn’t be surprised to see more fallout beyond the resignations and new assignments announced today,” he said. “The Justice Department and the ATF have yet to answer a majority of the questions and still must produce many of the documents Congressman Issa and I have asked for.

“We’re looking for a full accounting from the Justice Department as to who knew what and when, so we can be sure that this ill-advised strategy never happens again,” he said.

Sen. John Cornyn, Texas Republican and a Senate Judiciary Committee member, said that instead of reassigning those responsible for Fast and Furious, Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr. “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.”

Earlier this month, Mr. Cornyn asked Mr. Holder to explain press reports of suspected Texas-based “gun-walking” programs similar to Fast and Furious. To date, he said, Mr. Holder has refused to respond.

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