WASHINGTON (AP) — A new acting director was named Tuesday for the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives following congressional hearings into a flawed law enforcement operation aimed at major gun-trafficking networks in the Southwest.
The Justice Department said the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota, B. Todd Jones, will replace Kenneth Melson as the bureau’s acting director.
Melson will become senior adviser on forensic science in the Justice Department’s Office of Legal Policy.
ATF has been criticized by Republicans on Capitol Hill for a law enforcement operation in Arizona designed to track small-time gun buyers up the chain to make cases against major weapons traffickers. The operation was a response to longstanding criticism of ATF for concentrating on small-time gun violations and failing to attack the kingpins of weapons trafficking.
The strategy carried the risk that the tracking dimension of the program would be inadequate and that some guns would wind up in Mexico or on the U.S. side of the border in the hands of criminals and be used at crime scenes — which is what has happened.
ATF intelligence analyst Lorren Leadmon testified that of more than 2,000 weapons linked to the operation, some 1,400 have not been recovered.
Jones will continue to serve as U.S. Attorney when he assumes the role of ATF acting director on Wednesday.
In a statement, Attorney General Eric Holder called Jones “a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position.” Jones is a former military judge advocate as well as a prosecutor.
Holder added: “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.”
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