The Chicago Tribune is reporting that Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Acting Director Ken Melson, who has been linked to Operation Fast and Furious which allowed thousands of military-style weapons across the border into Mexico, is stepping down to take a position in the Department of Justice:
Kenneth E. Melson, who has faced heavy criticism in connection with the gun-trafficking investigation, announced Tuesday that he is stepping down as acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
Also resigning is Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney in Phoenix whose office oversaw the Fast and Furious program, in which ATF agents purposely allowed weapons to be illegally purchased in the hope of catching Mexican drug cartel leaders.
According to CBS News, Melson will become a senior advisor on forensic science in the DOJ’s Office of Legal Programs.
The move is suspect at best, given that Melson gave secret testimony about who knew what and when within DOJ, and included Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer.
ATF Special Agent Vince Cefalu, one of the original whistleblowers on the case, believes it’s motivated by a “cover your ass” attitude on the part of Holder. Cefalu notes Melson is a “lab rat” and believes he should never have been put in charge of ATF in the first place:
I think everything we said all along has been proven to be true. It’s no secret that they’re cleaning house.
Cefalu thinks Holder asked Melson what job he wanted in return for his silence:
You don’t think they gave him that for his stellar performance at ATF, do you?
Melson reportedly watched some of the straw purchases in Arizona live via webcam in his office.
Despite the fact that Dennis Burke’s resignation letter cited everything but Fast and Furious as his reason for stepping down, sources within ATF tell PJMedia he was forced to resign because he’d thrown Melson and Holder under the bus on Operation Fast and Furious. According to Fox News:
Burke was on the hot seat last week with congressional investigators and, according to several sources, got physically sick during questioning and could not finish his session.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-CA), chair of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, which has been investigating the case, responded to the moves by Justice:
While the reckless disregard for safety that took place in Operation Fast and Furious certainly merits changes within the Department of Justice, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue its investigation to ensure that blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department. There are still many questions to be answered about what happened in Operation Fast and Furious and who else bears responsibility, but these changes are warranted and offer an opportunity for the Justice Department to explain the role other officials and offices played in the infamous efforts to allow weapons to flow to Mexican drug cartels. I also remain very concerned by Acting Director Melson’s statement that the Department of Justice is managing its response in a manner intended to protect its political appointees. Senator Grassley and I will continue to press the Department of Justice for answers in order to ensure that a reckless effort like Fast and Furious does not take place again.
In addition to Melson’s reassignment, several others have been reassigned as well. Fox News reports:
In Phoenix, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, who oversaw Fast and Furious on a day-to-day basis, was reassigned from the criminal to civil division. Also in Phoenix, three out of the four whistleblowers involved in the case have been reassigned to new positions outside Arizona. Two are headed to Florida, one to South Carolina.
Hurley’s reassignment came after three ATF supervisors responsible for the operation were promoted. William G. McMahon, a former deputy director of operations, took over the Office of Professional Responsibility. Field supervisors William D. Newell and David Voth also moved up despite heavy criticism.
Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX) was unamused:
Instead of reassigning those responsible for “Fast and Furious” within the Department of Justice, Attorney General Holder should ask for their resignations and come clean on all alleged gun-walking operations, including a detailed response to allegations of a Texas-based scheme.
The new acting ATF director will be U.S. Attorney for Minnesota Todd Jones, who is supposed to be an outsider. However, information obtained by PJMedia contributor Bob Owens at Confederate Yankee indicates that may not be quite the case. In fact, Jones may have ties to Fast and Furious himself:
Jones was appointed to chair the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee back in August of 2009, and was briefed in Gunwalker.
According to Senator Charles Grassley’s June 15, 2011 congressional testimony attachment 4, the chair of AGAC (Jones) was a member of the Southwest Border Strategy Group and attended at least one briefing on Fast and Furious in October 2009.
It’s fairly clear the real cover-up has started. The mid- to upper-level officials who could conceivably hurt the people at the top are being moved out or given promotions in order to keep them quiet.