Whistle blowers blew the lid off Operation Fast and Furious, but the new head of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) warned staff that they would face “consequences” if they did not “find appropriate ways to raise [their] concerns to [their] leadership.”
“[I]f you don’t respect the chain of command, if you don’t find the appropriate ways to raise your concerns to your leadership, there will be consequences,” Acting ATF director Todd Jones, who was appointed in the wake of Operation Fast and Furious, said in a “changecast” video message broadcast to ATF staff. “I wanted to make this very clear to everyone as we turn the page with our first set of changecasts.”
Jones replaced Kenneth Melson as head of ATF in September of last year, after Melson resigned and was reassigned in the midst of the congressional investigation into Operation Fast and Furious, the gun scandal that saw law enforcement allow drug cartels to bring guns from the United States into Mexico, until a U.S. border patrol agent was killed by drug dealers armed through the operation.
The congressmen who launched an investigation into Operation Fast and Furious admonished Jones about his remarks.
“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,” wrote Sen. Chuck Grassley, R-Iowa, and House Oversight and Government Reform Chairman Darrell Issa, R-Calif., in a letter to Jones. “You must remind employees about their right to talk to Congress and provide Congress with information free and clear of agency interference or threats of retaliation.”
Issa and Grassley have already accused former ATF officials of trying to retaliate against the special agents who testified about Operation Fast and Furious. ““We need to get whatever dirt we can on these guys [the special agents] and take them down,” one ATF public affairs officer told his colleagues, according to an account of the conversation made public by the congressmen. The Department of Justice’s Inspector General is conducting an investigation to find out if retaliation took place.
Jones, who The Washington Post noted “chairs an advisory committee of U.S. attorneys across the country” for Attorney General Eric Holder, has the respect of his colleagues in law enforcement. “Todd is a man of unquestionable integrity and ethical values,” St. Paul Police Chief Thomas Smith told the Post. “To be a good leader, you’ve got to be a great listener. That’s one of his main strengths.”