The Wall Street Journal reported last night that the political fallout from Operation Fast and Furious has the White House looking for a fast and furious way out. The acting head of the ATF, Kenneth Melson, will likely lose his job, perhaps as early as next week, the WSJ’s sources say, in what looks like an effort to contain the damage:
The Justice Department is expected to oust the head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, according to people familiar with the matter, amid a troubled federal antitrafficking operation that has grown into the agency’s biggest scandal in nearly two decades.
Moves toward the replacement of Kenneth Melson, acting ATF director since April 2009, could begin next week, although the precise sequence of events remains to be decided, these people said.
The shakeup shows the extent of the political damage caused by the gun-trafficking operation called Fast and Furious, which used tactics that allowed suspected smugglers to buy large numbers of firearms. Growing controversy over the program has paralyzed a long-beleaguered agency buffeted by partisan battles. The ATF has been without a Senate-confirmed director since 2006, with both the Bush and Obama administrations unable to overcome opposition from gun-rights groups to win approval of nominees.
Speaking of which, the current nominee has yet to get a hearing. Andrew Traver’s nomination came almost two years into the Obama administration, two weeks after watching his party get trounced in the midterms, and the Senate has yet to act on the nomination. Republicans may be holding pro forma sessions during recesses with Harry Reid’s blessing in part to specifically keep Obama from making Traver a recess appointment, and not for no reason, as the Christian Science Monitor reported shortly after his nomination:
The nomination of the Naperville, Ill., native to be top gun cop is applauded by gun-control activists, who say the 5,000-employee ATF has lost ground in its regulation of the $28 billion US firearms business, having labored under interim directors since 2006.
But the idea of an ATF director who hails from Chicago, a city without gun shops, and who has conflated black market automatic weapons with legal semi-automatic “assault-style” rifles is causing Second Amendment defenders to worry that President Obama intends to blast away at gun rights by force of bureaucracy, if not law.
“This is a demonstration that Obama has … the same attitudes about Second Amendment rights now as he did [when he was an Illinois state senator], which is quite hostile,” says Dave Kopel, research director at the Independence Institute, a nonpartisan think tank in Golden, Colo., that promotes free-market ideas. “He’s picked a strong anti-Second Amendment person for an administrative job that has far more influence over the practical exercise of Second Amendment rights than any other job in the country.”
One interesting tidbit from that November 2010 story, if readers will pardon a tangent, has to do with the expected rise in gun violence from the run on sales after Obama’s election:
FBI reports show gun violence in the US has declined, surprising those criminologists who saw the combination of the 2009 gun run and high jobless rates as a recipe for a spike in gun crimes and violence.
Er … surprise? People who bought guns legally intend them for legal use. Perhaps gun crime went down because more people decided to not be victims. That wouldn’t surprise anyone who actually understands the 2nd Amendment and personal defense, which apparently doesn’t include “criminologists” or Andrew Traver.
Back to the ATF. The effort to get rid of Melson looks like an attempt to appease the House, but it’s not likely to work. Had the White House provided more cooperation with Darrell Issa on this and other investigations, a Melson resignation might have sufficed. Instead of cooperating, Melson and Attorney General Eric Holder stonewalled the Oversight Committee for weeks, and when they finally turned over the documents subpoenaed by Issa, the heavy redactions prompted Issa to tell the the DoJ’s Assistant Attorney General that he “should be ashamed” of its conduct in an investigation into the death of one of its Border Patrol agents:
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) on Wednesday escalated his standoff with the Department of Justice over a gun-tracking program that might have contributed to the death of federal agent.
As the family of slain ATF agent Brian Terry pleaded for justice, Issa said officials should be “ashamed” for handing over heavily redacted documents about the program. …
After more than two months of back-and-forth between DOJ officials and Issa’s staff, Assistant Attorney General Ronald Weich told lawmakers that the department was cooperating and actively working to respond to the committee’s request.
Outraged, Issa held up a piece of white paper with a giant black box of entirely redacted text on it.
“You should be ashamed of yourself,” Issa said to Weich. “It doesn’t take so long if you don’t spend your life redacting it.
“The pages go on like this forever,” he said, referencing the blackened piece of paper. “You’ve given us black paper instead of white paper. You might as well have given us a ream still in its original binder. How dare you make an opening statement of cooperation.”
It’s moments like this that will almost certainly lead Melson to join millions of other Americans looking for work. But thanks to the conduct of Holder and Weich, that’s not going to be enough. Issa now will go after the DoJ for its conduct in the investigation, because Holder and Weich have certainly acted as if they have something to hide. And the sudden desire to throw Melson under the bus seems to indicate that the White House would like to end this probe rather quickly, too. At this point, even a resignation by Weich wouldn’t slow Issa’s probe.