Grassley sees rush to confirm ATF chief facing probe

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President Obama’s nominee to head the embattled Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives remains the focus of a federal investigation and a senior Republican is asking why his confirmation hearings last week weren’t postponed until the case has been resolved.

Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa, ranking Republican on the SenateJudiciary Committee who first questioned ATF’s tactics in the “Fast and Furious” operation, said there is “an open investigation” by the Office of Special Counsel regarding “very troubling allegations” that B. Todd Jones retaliated against a whistleblower in the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota.

He said Carolyn Lerner, who heads OSC, confirmed in a letter that the case was still open.

“How are we supposed to make an assessment of the matter while it is still open?” Mr. Grassley said. “How are we supposed to ask the nominee about an open investigation.”

During his confirmation hearing last week before the committee, Mr. Jones said — when asked about the complaint — he had not seen “the substance of the complaints nor can I comment on what they are.” He told the committee, “I have learned more from your statement today than what I knew before I came here this morning about the nature and substance of the complaint.”

Mr. Grassley said moving forward on the confirmation was not consistent with past committee practice.

“I must say that the allegations in the complaint are extremely troubling,” he said, adding that despite the fact that committee members were told they were going forward with the hearing so Mr. Jones had an opportunity to answer the allegations, whenever he was asked about it, he said he couldn’t answer our questions because he hadn’t seen the complaint.

“So, my point about the hearing being premature was overwhelmingly proven,” he said.

The White House has urged the Senate to approve him, calling him a “highly qualified nominee who has decades of experience in law enforcement and a track record of effective leadership as acting ATF director.”

SenateJudiciary Committee Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, Vermont Democrat, argued in a statement that the pending complaint against Mr. Jones “is not substantial or even substantially about Todd Jones.” He said it provided no reason to oppose the confirmation.

“With respect to the nomination of Todd Jones, we are further examining the matter, but I believe him qualified and at this time know of no good reason the Senate should not confirm his nomination,” Mr. Leahy said.

Mr. Grassley said employees within the U.S. attorney's office in Minnesota had written anonymously to the OSC asking for “a review of the patterns, practices, treatment, and abuse that [they] have suffered.” He said they claimed Mr. Jones “ha[d] instituted a climate of fear, ha[d] pushed employees out of the office, dismissed employees wrongly, violated the hiring practices of the EEOC, and put in place an Orwellian style of management.”

The OSC investigation, according to the Lerner letter, has centered on allegations that Mr. Jones, as the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, improperly retaliated against a whistleblower. The whistleblower has been identified by the Minneapolis Star Tribune as Assistant U.S. Attorney Jeff Paulsen.

According to the Lerner letter, Mr. Paulsen “alleges that personnel actions, including a suspension and a lower performance appraisal, were taken in retaliation for protected whistleblowing or other protected activity.” The complaint was filed in March, two months after Mr. Jones had been nominated by Mr. Obama.

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