Obama’s ATF Nominee Criticized for Seeming to Discourage Whistleblowers

By Fred Lucas | January 18, 2013 | 9:15 AM EST

B. Todd Jones has been acting director of the ATF since August 2011, replacing Kenneth Melson, who resigned amid the Fast and Furious scandal. (AP Photo)

(CNSNews.com) – Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee, says President Obama’s nomination of B. Todd Jones to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) raises “serious questions” because of Jones’s ties to the Fast and Furious scandal.

“The new nominee, B. Todd Jones, is a familiar face to the committee, but his ties to the Fast and Furious scandal raise serious questions,” Grassley said in a statement.

Jones has been acting director of the ATF since August 2011, replacing Kenneth Melson, who resigned amid the guns-to-Mexico investigation. On Wednesday, announcing his “executive actions” on gun control, Obama said he would nominate Jones to hold the job on a permanent basis.

“Since Congress hasn’t confirmed a director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms in six years, they should confirm Todd Jones, who will be -- who has been acting director, and I will be nominating for the post,” Obama said.

Although Jones replaced the ATF leadership team, he still has come under scrutiny for comments he made earlier this year in a video message to the ATF’s 5,000 employees.

As first reported by The Washington Guardian in July 2012, Jones called for “One ATF, everybody working together, exemplifying one of the pieces of our leadership philosophy, that being teamwork.” Later in the video he said, “Choices and consequences means simply that if you make poor choices, that if you don’t abide by the rules, that if you don’t respect the chain of command, if you don’t find the appropriate way to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences.”

On July 18, 2012, Grassley and House Oversight and Government Reform Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) wrote a letter to Jones raising concerns about his videotaped comments:

They noted that if it weren’t for whistleblowers, the Fast and Furious scandal might never have come to light:

“Your ominous message – which could be interpreted as a threat – is likely to have a major chilling effect on ATF employees exercising their rights to contact Congress,” the letter said. “Therefore, it needs to be clarified.”

“Sometimes it is necessary to address concerns outside the chain of command, and those kinds of disclosures are protected by law and should not be threatened with unspecified ‘consequences,’” the letter continued. “ATF managers should be required to respect protected whistleblower disclosures and held accountable when they do not. That would send a clear message that the ATF will not tolerate intimidation of whistleblowers who provide information to Congress.”

Jones responded to the two members in a July 25, 2012 letter, saying the video message “was designed to reinforce and highlight the importance of accountability at all levels of the ATF to safe and efficient Federal law enforcement, one of the main concerns raised to me by employees in the field. At no time was I attempting to discourage, dissuade or prevent employees from making protected disclosure under Title 5 of the United States Code.”

He told the congressman he had issued a “a ‘Special Message’ to all ATF employees that clarifies the message…and outlines the nature of the protected disclosure under the Whistleblower Protection Act.”

Grassley and Issa say that under Jones’s leadership of ATF, one of the key figures in Operation Fast and Furious was given favorable treatment while an ATF whistleblower cooperating with congressional investigators faced an internal affairs probe.

ATF’s former Deputy Assistant Director for Field Operations William McMahon -- faulted for his role in Fast and Furious – got a new job as executive director for J.P. Morgan’s Global Investigations Groups. But he was able to hold on to his ATF salary while he was on leave from the agency and working in the other job.

“This unusual arrangement is apparently designed to allow Mr. McMahon to reach retirement eligibility while on extended leave for four or five months and simultaneously begin a second career before separating from government employment,” said a letter from Issa and Grassley to Jones on Aug. 21, 2012.

“Given McMahon’s outsized role in the Fast and Furious scandal, the decision to approve an extended annual leave arrangement in order to attain pension eligibility and facilitate full-time, outside employment while still collecting a full-time salary at ATF raises a host of questions about both the propriety of the arrangement and the judgment of ATF management,” the Aug. 21 letter said.

“Rather than imposing consequences for his admitted failures, the ATF appears to be rewarding McMahon,” the letter said. “Through this unusual arrangement, the ATF has essentially facilitated McMahon’s early retirement and ability to double dip for nearly half a year by receiving two full-time paychecks – one from the taxpayer and one from the private sector.”

After failing to receive a response, Grassley and Issa wrote Jones again on Oct. 19, 2012, contrasting the treatment of McMahon with that of Special Agent John Dodson, the first ATF agent to approach Congress as a Fast and Furious whistleblower.

The congressmen wrote that although ATF had "opened and closed" an internal investigation into Dodson, it had done so secretly, not giving Dodson any details about the investigation or allowing his attorney to opportunity to review the report.

“Given the secrecy and timing of this alleged Internal Affairs investigation, it raises the question of whether this is a thinly veiled attempt to punish Special Agent Dodson for speaking to Congress about Operation Fast and Furious,” the letter from Issa and Grassley continued.

Fox News reported on Jan. 15 that the ATF cleared Dodson, and that ATF Deputy Director Tom Brandon praised Dodson in a letter for “the courageous step of going to Congress to ensure that the public learned of the flawed tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious.”

According to a House oversight committee report, McMahon was the supervisor of the Phoenix field division from ATF headquarters in Washington and received a wealth of information about Fast and Furious, but did not view it as his role as supervisor to ask questions about events in the field. He has publicly admitted to having failed in his duty to read information presented to him about the case. McMahon was the highest official in ATF to authorize the use of wire intercepts in Fast and Furious.

The same House oversight committee report noted that Dodson, a seven-year veteran of ATF, was removed from ATF’s Phoenix field division in the summer of 2010 for complaining to ATF supervisors about the dangerous tactics used in Operation Fast and Furious.”

Operation Fast and Furious was the Justice Department’s gun-walking program that allowed nearly 2,000 guns to flow to Mexican drug trafficking organizations with the professed intent of tracking the guns. However, the government lost track of the guns. The operation, which began in the fall of 2009, was halted in December 2010 after two of the guns from the operation were found at the murder scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent.

The scandal became known when ATF agents reported the matter to members of Congress rather than supervisors.