Cool Reception on Hill for ATF Nominee Accused of Imposing 'Climate of Fear'

WASHINGTON – Republicans on the Senate Judiciary Committee gave President Obama’s choice to lead the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives a cool reception on Tuesday, grilling B. Todd Jones on issues ranging from claims of office mismanagement and vindictiveness to the administration’s views on gun prosecutions.

Led by Sen. Chuck Grassley (R-Iowa), the panel’s ranking member, GOP lawmakers complained that Jones’ confirmation hearing should have been postponed until an Office of Special Counsel probe into his tenure as the U.S. attorney for Minnesota is completed.

Instead, Grassley said, “the majority is intent on jamming this nomination through the committee no matter what,” and Republicans exhibited no indication that they are willing to go along.

“It’s no secret that there have been several controversial events that Mr. Jones has been involved in to one degree or the other,” Grassley said.

Jones is the second candidate nominated by the White House to head the ATF, one of the federal government’s leading law enforcement agencies. The first, Andrew Traver, head of the Denver division, was withdrawn in the face of opposition from Republicans who threatened to filibuster the move.

Obama and his predecessor, former President George W. Bush, have experienced problems filling the position since the Senate was given the authority to confirm the president’s nominee in 2006. Since then no one has gained approval and the bureau has been led by four people – including Jones – on an interim basis.

Sen. Amy Klobuchar (D-Minn.), who chaired the hearing in the absence of Sen. Pat Leahy (D-Vt.), asserted that the Senate’s inability to confirm a permanent director is hindering the agency.

“It seems that some members of the Senate don’t want the ATF to have the benefit of a confirmed director,” Klobuchar said. “So for all the concerns raised about the ATF – some of them very legitimate – confirming a full-time permanent director should be a firm step in making sure the ATF is doing its job and doing it well.”

Jones, Klobuchar said, is “well-qualified and has a range of experiences and accomplishments that leave him more than ready to lead the ATF on a full-time basis -- not on a temporary basis, not on an interim basis. He is a talented, dedicated and hard-working public servant who has served his country in both the military and in civilian agencies.”

On April 12 the Senate Judiciary Committee was informed that the Office of Special Counsel had launched an investigation into claims that Jones had retaliated against one of his assistants during his tenure as U.S. attorney in Minnesota, suspending the subordinate for five days and transferring him to other duties after concerns were voiced about gross mismanagement.

That claim remains open, although both sides have agreed to mediation over the issue.

Another complaint forwarded to the Office of Special Counsel -- this one from an anonymous source claiming to be “Employees of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Minnesota” – asserted that Jones imposed a “climate of fear” and practiced “an Orwellian style of management that continues to polarize the office.” OSC did not institute a substantive probe into the letter since insufficient information was made available.

Grassley insisted there are “serious charges” and “numerous unresolved issues regarding Mr. Jones” that warrant the committee’s attention.