ATF Director: 'Wish I Had Better Answers' About ATF Agents Probing a Tea Party Conservative
(CNSNews.com) - B. Todd Jones, director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, couldn't tell Congress why his agents made two visits to a tea party conservative in a 13-month period -- but only after she requested tax-exempt status for her conservative group, True the Vote.
Catherine Engelbrecht had a Federal Firearms License (FFL) for 12 years. "And suddenly she applies for tax exempt status, and you're knocking on her door twice in 13 months," Rep. Jim Jordan (R-Ohio) told Jones at a hearing on Wednesday.
"Congressman, I wish I had better answers," Jones said.
Jordan noted that ATF generally does FFL compliance inspections only in cases with "high-risk indicators," such as criminal activity -- but none of those indicators applied to Engelbrecht:
"Imagine what this lady felt like," a heated Jordan told Jones.
"She gets the full weight of the federal government coming down on her and her family and her business, and all she's trying to do is get a tax-exempt status that had been routine for 50 years, and suddenly now the federal government (is) saying, no, no, no -- you're not going to get that tax-exempt status, and we're going to send four federal agencies out to harass you, including yours."
In February, Engelbrecht testified that in nearly two decades of running their small business, "my husband and I never dealt with any government agency, outside of filing our annual tax returns. We had never been audited, we had never been investigated, but all that changed upon submitting applications for the nonprofit statuses of True the Vote and King Street Patriots."
She says she was audited by the IRS, visited by Rep. Elijah Cummings (D-Md.), and received more than one inspection visit from ATF and OSHA. "I found myself a target of this federal government," she told the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee in February.
"Well, it's unfortunate that you and Miss Engelbrecht think it's harassment," Jones told Jordan, speaking of the two visits by ATF agents. "From our perspective, it's part of a regulatory function."
"Let me ask you this," Jordan said: Did anyone at the White House encourage ATF to pay Miss Engelbrecht a visit and go inspect?"
"No," Jones replied.
"Did any federal agency talk to you or anyone at ATF and encourage you to inspect and visit Miss Engelbrecht?"
"Did any member of Congress contact you or anyone at ATF and encourage you to go out and visit and inspect Miss Engelbrecht's Federal Firearms License?"
"Not to my knowledge," Jones replied.
"Have you talked to any other federal agency about what you learned or discussed or discovered when you visit Miss Engelbrecht's place of business?"
"Not to my knowledge."
What did you discover when you visited there in February of 2012 and April of 2013?
"It was a qualifications inspection," Jones said. "I have no idea based on --"
"Were there any citations, any problems, any fines -- anything that you discovered?" Jordan interrupted.
"I don't know," Jones said.
Jordan and other members of the House oversight and Government Reform Committee sent a letter to the ATF six weeks ago, requesting all ATF documents relating to Catherine Engelbrecht. On Wednesday, Jordan complained that the committee hasn't received a reply.
Jones said the ATF has cooperated in providing information to the committee "as quickly as we can. I hope you understand that there is a process. I do know that we've got to get better answering the mail. We've worked very hard and have changed some of our processes to get better answering the mail because we know you need information -- and we have it. But we also have a certain process as well as sensitivities--
"Again, this is simple," Jordan cut in. "This is one individual. Catherine Engelbrecht...Any document that has Engelbrecht mentioned in it, we want that information. That's a pretty simple search. I think you could have had it to us in a week, a day, maybe -- but here we are six weeks later, and you're telling us oh, we'll try to do it as soon as we possible can. We've heard that before."
Jones never did commit to providing the documents. "As soon as we can," was as close as he came.