The White House and former law enforcement officials on Monday urged the swift confirmation of B. Todd Jones to be the permanent director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF), renewing a largely dormant battle over gun control six months after December’s school shootings in Connecticut.
White House press secretary Jay Carney laid blame squarely at the feet of congressional Republicans for the long holdup in finding a permanent head for the agency — a position that did not require Senate confirmation until 2006.
“The ATF is a critical law enforcement agency that helps protect our communities from dangerous criminals, gun violence and acts of terror,” Mr. Carney said. “Yet for the past six years it has been serving without a confirmed director because Senate Republicans have blocked every nominee regardless of their qualifications.”
Republicans like Sen. Charles E. Grassley, though, say they have unsuccessfully tried to get answers from Mr. Jones on the botched Fast and Furious gun-running scheme in 2011, among other things.
“I believe the ATF needs a Senate-confirmed director,” the Iowa Republican and ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee said in a statement shortly after President Obama nominated Mr. Jones for the post in January. “However, if we are prohibited from asking questions about important matters that get to the core of leadership, character, and candor about a nominee’s ability to run an agency, it makes our job that much harder.
The Judiciary Committee is set to weigh Mr. Jones’ confirmation at a Tuesday hearing. Mr. Obama nominated Mr. Jones, the U.S. attorney for the District of Minnesota and, since 2011, the acting director of the ATF, to permanently fill the ATF as part of his response to the shooting rampage at a Connecticut elementary school that left 20 children and six educators dead.
COVERAGE: Second Amendment & Gun Control
And tough-on-crime lawmakers can’t have it both ways, said Joe Vince, a former ATF special agent and current criminal justice program director at Mount St. Mary’s University.
“After 9/11, federal law enforcement was criticized because we didn’t connect the dots and prevent things from happening,” he said on a conference call organized by the advocacy group Mayors Against Illegal Guns (MAIG). “Now, in essence, what we’ve seen in the last decade is that looking at firearms and firearms information … literally we’ve taken the dots off the table to be connected.”
To Mr. Vince’s point, language has routinely been inserted into spending bills in recent years that, for example, prevent the Justice Department from requiring gun shops to keep yearly inventories and makes clear that the ATF cannot draw “broad conclusions about firearms-related crime” from gun-tracing data — language long supported by the gun lobby.
Mr. Grassley has been one of the most prominent senators to seek more information from Mr. Jones, who could also face questions over Operation Fearless, a botched ATF gun and drug sting in Milwaukee that was launched in 2011. Michael E. Horowitz, the Justice Department’s inspector general, wrote last month to members of Congress, including Mr. Grassley, that the Milwaukee operation “appeared to raise significant management issues,” but that an internal report from the ATF addresses those issues of concern.
David Chipman, a former ATF agent and current adviser to MAIG, said he couldn’t speak specifically to Mr. Jones’ time in Minnesota, but overwhelmingly vouched for his character Monday.
“Is this someone who, based on their orders, would you risk your life for?” Mr. Chipman said. “For me, the answer to that question is yes.”