Leahy Statement On ATF Nominee

WASHINGTON (Thursday, June 13, 2013) – Senate Judiciary Committee Chairman Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.) entered the following statement into the Record Thursday regarding the nomination of B. Todd Jones to serve as director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).  Jones was nominated to the post in January and appeared before the Judiciary Committee for a confirmation hearing this week.

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Statement Of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.)
Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee,
On the ATF Director Nomination
June 13, 2013

On Tuesday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the nomination of B. Todd Jones to serve as the director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives (ATF).  I thank Senator Klobuchar for the exceptional job she did in chairing this hearing and setting the record straight with respect to distortions of the nominee’s record. 

Todd Jones continues to serve this country honorably.  He volunteered for the U.S. Marine Corps in 1983, serving on active duty as a Judge Advocate and Infantry Officer until 1989. In 1991, he was recalled to active duty to command the 4th Marine Division’s Military Police Company in Iraq.  He also served as Commanding Officer of the Twin Cities Marine Reserve Unit.  He has twice been considered for the important law enforcement position of U.S. Attorney and twice unanimously reported out of the Judiciary Committee and unanimously confirmed by the Senate.  In 1998 he was first appointed to be the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota and became the first African American U.S. Attorney in Minnesota’s history.  In 2009, when that office was at a low point and needed a strong hand to lead it back, he answered the call, again. 

When the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives needed new leadership after its poorly conceived and executed Fast and Furious operation, the President called upon him, again.  He was called upon to clear up the mess and deserves our thanks for having made great progress in doing so.  He has done so while all the while continuing to serve as the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota and has had to restore leadership and effectiveness in two important law enforcement agencies. 

We have received numerous letters of support for Todd Jones nomination from law enforcement, respected legal professionals, and veterans of the U.S. Marine Corps.  He has critics; he has taken on difficult assignments. As he noted at his hearing, sometimes you have to take action to make a change and change is not always something that everyone is going to favor.   A fair evaluation of what he has accomplished leads me to support his nomination to be confirmed as the Director of ATF.  

The ATF has been without a permanent director since that position was made confirmable position in 2006.  We lean heavily on the expertise of the ATF. For example, under the leadership of Todd Jones, since September 2011, ATF has been called on to analyze the bombs left near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, to sift through burned debris at the chemical plant explosion in the West, Texas, and to trace the weapons used in the Newtown and Aurora mass killings.  Agents of the ATF have played a major role in investigating some of our Nation’s worst tragedies.  The agency needs a confirmed head.  Todd Jones is the ATF’s fifth acting director since 2006.  The Senate should be doing everything it can to ensure that the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives has the tools it needs to keep Americans safe, and that starts with a Senate-confirmed director. 

I had accommodated the ranking member on requests for further information and delay on this nomination for months.  Senator Grassley insisted on the production of documents from the Department of Justice that his staff had already had access to for months.  He insisted that his staff be able to interview Todd Jones in his capacity as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, as well as two other Justice Department officials, in order to try to build a case against another nomination, that of Tom Perez to be Labor Secretary.  Those interviews have taken place.  Senator Grassley requested additional background information from the administration not usually required by the Committee for an executive nomination and he received that information.  When he sought information about an ATF operation in Milwaukee, I arranged a bipartisan briefing for our staffs from the agency. 

Some are criticizing the nominee based on a complaint filed against him by an AUSA from the earlier Bush-era U.S. Attorney office.  After learning about the complaint, I had initially put on hold a planned hearing on this nomination. In late April, a news article reported that “an aide to Senator Grassley” had released a letter from OSC that the Ranking Member and I had received about the existence of that preliminary inquiry. It was at that time that I determined that this hearing should move forward to allow the nominee an opportunity to defend his reputation. When a private complaint against him was disclosed publicly, I thought it unfair that the nominee could not respond.  He did at his hearing and in my view that matter is put to rest. 

The U.S. Office of Special Counsel (OSC) closed the file on the underlying allegation made against the nominee of “gross mismanagement and abuses of authority.”  The allegation involving alleged retaliation has been referred to mediation.  In deference to the complaining party and the request of the investigating agency that the complaint not be made public, it has not been.  I wish it were.  It is not substantial or even substantially about Todd Jones.  It is certainly not reason to oppose the confirmation. 

The ranking member requested that the long-delayed June 4 confirmation hearing on the nomination to head ATF be postponed further, and I postponed it another week.  During that postponement, over that last weekend, the ranking member threatened to use Senate rules for the minority to call an outside witness to testify at the hearing.  There is no precedent for outside witnesses at a Judiciary Committee hearing for a subcabinet Executive level position.  I nonetheless sought to accommodate his last-minute demand by agreeing to his calling a witness. 

The hearing proceeded on Tuesday and should have cleared the air.  For instance, those opposing this nomination were unaware that Todd Jones had terminated a supervisor of the Fast and Furious operation.   

The Judiciary Committee had for decades followed a tradition and practice of examination allegations against nominees in a bipartisan manner from the outset.  That has not been the practice Republicans have followed during the last several years.  They have, instead, not brought matters to the bipartisan staff but chosen to proceed on their own.  

Sometimes we do delay Committee consideration of nominations to allow a complaint to be resolved.  Sometimes we proceed despite lawsuits involving nominees, such as the way we proceeded last year with the nomination of Judge Stephanie Rose of Iowa to the United States District Court for the District of Iowa even though there was a lawsuit pending in which there were allegations against her actions as the U.S. Attorney for Iowa.   Earlier this year, when defense counsel filed a motion against the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico making allegations, we independently examined the matter.  The Committee proceeded with that nomination rather than delay it.  

I have reached out to the ranking member staff about getting back to our tradition of conducting bipartisan inquiries into allegations made against nominees. I hope that practice will be restored. 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 to serve as Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.

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