(CNSNews.com) - White House Press Secretary Jay Carney would not say today whether President Barack Obama wants Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) Acting Director Kenneth Melson to resign because of a long-running ATF operation that purposefully allowed known and suspected smugglers to purchase weapons at licensed gun dealers in the United States and then allowed the smugglers to flee with the weapons--two of which ended up at the scene of the murder of a Border Patrol agent.
At Monday’s press briefing, CNSNews.com asked Carney: “There have been some recent reports that acting ATF Director Melson is resisting pressure about resigning. Does the president believe he should resign?”
Carney answered: “I would refer questions about that to the Department of Justice.”
CNSNews.com followed up: “The president doesn’t have a position on his resignation?”
Carney said: “I don’t have any more comment.”
Last Friday, the Los Angeles Times reported that the ATF’s Melson is resisting pressure to step down over the controversy. The Times cited an unnamed source who said: "He is saying he won't go. … He has told them, 'I'm not going to be the fall guy on this.'"
The Times quoted a second unnamed source who said: "He's resisting. He does not want to go."
Justice Department Spokeswoman Tracy Schmaler did not respond to a phone inquiry that CNSNews.com placed Monday afternoon after Carney suggested putting the question to the Justice Department.
The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee published a report this month that said the ATF operation—dubbed “Operation Fast and Furious”—had been approved at the “highest levels” of the Justice Department. Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) is leading a congressional investigation of the matter along with Sen. Charles Grassley (R-Iowa), the ranking member of the Senate Judiciary Committee.
Under Operation Fast and Furious, the ATF knowingly allowed about 2,000 guns to be purchased at licensed gun dealers in Arizona by people whom the ATF knew or suspected were smugglers working as intermediaries for Mexican drug cartels. The intent of the investigation was not to stop the gun purchases, or to take the guns away from the buyers after they had purchased them, but to let guns go to the cartels so the U.S. could trace and uncover the entirety of major gun-smuggling organizations.
The operation began in 2009 and ended in early 2011 with the indictment of 20 individuals on relatively minor charges for illegal gun purchases.
Before the administration stopped the operation, however, Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in Arizona by alleged drug cartel operatives. Two rifles found at the scene of Terry’s murder had been purchased by an alleged gun smuggler, Jaime Avila, who had purchased them with the full knowledge of the ATF, in the conduct of Operation Fast and Furious.