07.31.13

Statement of Senator Patrick Leahy (D-Vt.), Chairman, Senate Judiciary Committee, On the Nomination of B. Todd Jones to be Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives

When the 113th Congress convened following the terrible tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut, the Judiciary Committee focused its attention on commonsense gun violence prevention legislation.  The American people made their voices heard in favor of effective reforms, and many Senators went to work to find common ground. 

Though the Senate Judiciary Committee approved four pieces of legislation to address gun violence, two of which were reported on bipartisan votes, the Senate was unable to pass any of these measures.  Like many Americans, I was disappointed at the Senate’s inability to come together to make sensible changes to our laws to reduce gun violence. 

Today we have another chance to make progress in our efforts to reduce gun violence with the confirmation of B. Todd Jones to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.  Todd Jones has served as the acting director since September 2011.  Under his leadership, the ATF has been called on to analyze the bombs left near the finish line at the Boston Marathon, to sift through burned debris in the West, Texas explosion and to trace the weapons used by the shooters in the Newtown and Aurora massacres.  The ATF has played a major role in investigating some of our nation’s worst tragedies. 

In addition to the ATF’s enforcement responsibilities, the agency is central to firearms commerce.  The ATF issues permits for companies that import firearms and to provide firearms to law enforcement agencies.  Without a confirmed director, the ATF’s job of supporting and regulating Americans who make their living in the business of firearms is much more difficult.  Yet, we continue to hamper the ATF’s ability to do its job.  No nominee to lead the ATF has been confirmed since that position was made subject to the Senate’s consent.   

I hope the Senate will vote to change this unfortunate pattern of obstruction.  Mr. Jones is a dedicated public servant and law enforcement official.  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.  When Todd Jones was confirmed by this body in 1998, he became the first African American U.S. Attorney in Minnesota’s history.  Todd Jones has served this country honorably as a marine, a U.S. Attorney, and the ATF’s acting director. 

Unfortunately, there is opposition to Mr. Jones’ confirmation.  But in my view this opposition has little to do with his ability to lead this important Federal agency.  Every nominee to lead the ATF has been met with unreasonable opposition.  And the consistent opposition all nominees to this post have faced is less about those nominees’ qualifications than about weakening a Federal law enforcement agency that some disfavor.

Some Senate Republicans would prefer not to have anyone leading the ATF, no matter who the nominee is. They would not allow President Bush to have a confirmed director and they do not want President Obama have one either.

Opposition to confirming an ATF director is just another piece of the overall effort by some in Congress to make it more difficult for the ATF to carry out its important mission.  For example, when the ATF proposed and implemented a rule intended to provide investigative leads on straw purchasing rings in the Southwest that were fueling drug cartel violence by trafficking firearms across the border, some Members of Congress immediately objected and the agency was sued to block implementation of the rule.  The rule, which has now been upheld unanimously by two Federal Circuit Courts of Appeal, including the Fifth Circuit, was simple—it required federally licensed firearms dealers to report sales of multiple semi-automatic rifles to the ATF, just as all licensed dealers are required to report multiple sales of handguns.  Yet some spent significant energy and resources to block the agency’s action. 

And in recent years, some members of Congress spent months, and untold public resources investigating misguided investigative tactics in the ATF’s Phoenix field office associated with an ATF criminal investigation called Fast and Furious.  The Fast and Furious investigation concerned a significant firearms trafficking organization in Arizona.  This trafficking organization was systematically purchasing hundreds of firearms using straw buyers and transferring them to members of Mexican drug cartels.  They operated with ease and virtual impunity as the result of weak Federal laws concerning straw purchasing and firearms trafficking.  Investigators and prosecutors were hobbled by weak laws.  Some took unacceptable risks to combat a very serious problem on both sides of our border with Mexico. 

When the investigative tactics at issue came to light, they were widely criticized, and Attorney General Holder acted swiftly to put an end to them.  The Attorney General also directed the Department of Justice Inspector General to conduct a thorough investigation.  As a result of the Inspector General’s investigation, those responsible for these tactics were disciplined.  And the ATF’s procedures were revised to set out clear guidelines for firearms trafficking investigations. 

While some Members of Congress were content to merely heap blame on the Attorney General and other dedicated law enforcement officials following the Fast and Furious investigation, I and other Senators chose a different path and worked with law enforcement experts and advocates on both sides of the firearms policy debate to come up with an effective, sensible approach to put an end to the straw purchasing and firearms trafficking.

Unfortunately, the same Senators who were so critical of the ATF’s investigative tactics in Arizona, and its approach to dealing with a very serious law enforcement issue, declined to support the bipartisan legislation Senator Collins and I developed to give law enforcement the tools they need to fight gun trafficking. 

I hope the same Senators that were so critical of the ATF and the Department of Justice for the breakdown in leadership and management at the agency will not obstruct this nominee and the opportunity to give the agency the solid footing it needs.  If the Fast and Furious investigation revealed anything, it was that the ATF faces very significant law enforcement challenges, and that our current laws are inadequate to provide the tools investigators and prosecutors need to confront these problems.  Let us not compound these difficulties with continued obstruction of this nominee. 

Todd Jones was nominated in January.  It is now the last day of July.  For months, I accommodated the Ranking Member on requests for further information and delay on the nomination of Todd Jones.  He 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.

Senator Grassley requested additional background information from the administration not usually required by the committee for an executive nomination and he was provided that information.  When he sought information about an ATF operation in Milwaukee, I arranged a bipartisan briefing from the agency.

Then a member of the Ranking Member’s staff disclosed a private Office of Special Counsel (OSC) complaint against Todd Jones to the press.  I thought it unfair that the nominee could not publicly defend his reputation.

An employee complained of “gross mismanagement and abuse of authority” but the OSC closed the file based on lack of evidence.  The other allegation involved alleged retaliation for making the mismanagement claim and that subsidiary claim has been referred to mediation.  In deference to the complaining party and at 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 directly related to Todd Jones.  It is certainly not a reason to oppose his confirmation.

I know Senator Grassley has the right to raise concerns, but he has made it very clear he does not approve of Todd Jones under any circumstances.  I had asked his staff to work with us to get a clearer understanding of the retaliation complaint.  But when we talked to the complainant, he was willing only to repeat his own allegations, allegations that are not aimed directly at Mr. Jones but at somebody else, a mid-level manager.

We asked the complainant to provide the Committee access to the contemporaneous files so we could determine whether this instance was retaliation or one in a series of disciplinary actions against an employee spanning several years.  We offered to take the information in confidence, not for the Justice Department but just for members of our Committee.  The complainant refused and his lawyer refused to provide that to us so I would ask all members to read the complaint themselves.  We have bent over backwards to allow the complainant to come forward, and he has chosen not to do so.

I would also note for all Senators that we have moved forward on nominees in past when there have been pending complaints.  For example, last year a civil suit was filed against a judicial nominee from Iowa alleging age discrimination and retaliation for raising management issues against the nominee in her capacity as the U.S. Attorney for the Northern District of Iowa.  We conducted a bipartisan staff investigation into the claims.  I listened to the Senators from Iowa, and we determined we could move forward despite the civil suit that was pending against the nominee.  The nominee was overwhelmingly confirmed to the U.S. District Court for the Southern District of Iowa.

Earlier this year, when a defense counsel filed a motion against the U.S. Attorney for the District of New Mexico making allegations of improper activity, we independently examined the matter.  The committee proceeded with that nomination instead of delaying it.

Todd Jones is the ATF’s fifth acting director since 2006.  During that time 80,000 Americans have been killed with guns.  The ATF helps protect our communities from dangerous criminals, gun violence, and acts of terror.  It is a central piece of our Federal law enforcement strategy.  For too long the position of director at the ATF has been held hostage to partisan politics at the expense of public safety.  It is time to make real progress in our efforts to reduce gun violence and protect the citizens of this great nation.  Today, I encourage all Senators to take the opportunity to move toward that goal together with the confirmation of B. Todd Jones to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives.    

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