Four senior ATF managers who supervised the botched Fast and Furious gunrunning investigation could face termination if the recommendations of a disciplinary board are upheld.
The four managers of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives were among 14 Justice Department employees singled out for possible disciplinary actions by the department’s inspector general in a September report because of their mishandling of the failed gunrunning operation that resulted in hundreds of weapons ending up in the hands of Mexican smugglers.
Fast and Furious was an attempt by ATF to stop the flow of illegal weapons into Mexico by allowing “straw buyers” to walk the weapons — including hundreds of AK-47 semiautomatic assault rifles — into Mexico with a goal of tracking them to drug cartel leaders. But the ATF lost track of hundreds of the weapons, 1,400 of which are still unaccounted for.
A federal source confirmed the recommendation to dismiss the agents. The Wall Street Journal first reported the disciplinary actions against the four Tuesday.
Donna Sellers, a spokeswoman for the ATF, said: “As a matter of policy, we don’t discuss personnel matters.”
Mark Zaid, an attorney for one of the men, William McMahon, a former deputy assistant director of ATF who oversaw field operations in the West, said his client was fired last week, reportedly on grounds unrelated to Fast and Furious.
But Mr. Zaid said his client is a “victim of political fallout from a partisan battle between the Hill and the Department of Justice.”
“He never would have gotten fired if Fast and Furious had not happened,” Mr. Zaid said. “He would still be working for ATF.”
Mr. Zaid said his client would appeal his dismissal.
The ATF’s Professional Review Board has recommended that three other managers also be fired, including Mark Chait, former assistant director for field operations; William Newell, former special agent in charge of the ATF’s Phoenix office; and George Gillett, the former second in command in the Phoenix office.
The three will get a chance to appeal their dismissals before a disciplinary review panel of senior managers, said John P. Mahoney, a federal sector employee lawyer who is not involved in the case.
“The agency may not be willing to negotiate, given the external pressures of the case,” Mr. Mahoney said. But he said that if the employees are unhappy with the results, they can appeal them to an outside board.
Mr. Newell’s attorney, Paul Pelletier, said in an email that “I won’t be making any comment at this time.”
Mr. Gillett’s attorney, Peter Noone, said in an email that his client had “received a proposal for his removal.”
“We will be responding to that proposal,” he said. “Given that this matter is likely to involve litigation, I cannot provide any additional information.”