Jones Out at ATF – Questions Never Answered
By Jeff Knox
(March 25, 2015) The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, or ATF, has announced the resignation of Director B. Todd Jones, effective at the end of the month. Jones is said to be moving on to a lucrative (multi-million dollar) position with the National Football League. The announcement came just days after blogger and independent journalist David Codrea (who was also the first to report on the Fast and Furious scandal) had reported on rumors that the ATF chief was on his way out. Jones headed the agency on an interim basis from August 2011 until a year and a half ago when he was confirmed as Director by the U.S. Senate in July of 2013.
When he was appointed Interim Director, Jones was billed as a reformer, a straight arrow who would get to the bottom of recent ATF scandals – most particularly Fast and Furious, the program that promoted the sales of thousands of guns to Mexican criminals – and get the agency back on track. At that time I warned that Jones was a “company man” with personal and professional loyalties to Attorney General Eric Holder, and possibly, personal involvement in Fast and Furious. I pointed out that in his capacity as Chairman of the Attorney General’s Advisory Committee, Jones was believed to be in attendance at a critical meeting of the AG’s Southwest Border Strategy Group where some believe the group conceived the seriously flawed gunwalking strategy.
I have to couch this in terms of “possibly,” and “believed,” because questions about this scandal and the people involved have never been answered. After four years of public outrage, media inquiries, and congressional investigations, culminating in a still-unanswered Contempt of Congress vote against Attorney General Eric Holder, we still don’t know what really happened or who was involved. Thousands of pages of related documents and correspondence remain either withheld or so heavily redacted as to be completely useless. Key witnesses remain unquestioned and so far, no one has been held accountable.
Now Jones is moving on to a high-paying job with the NFL, Holder is only awaiting confirmation of his hand-picked successor before he also moves on to a lucrative new job in the private sector, and the man stepping up to take Jones’ place at ATF (on an interim basis) is Deputy Director Thomas Brandon the very same guy that orchestrated the “no accountability” opus under Jones. That’s reassuring isn’t it?
When Jones was appointed Interim Director of ATF, I raised questions about his involvement in Operation Fast and Furious in this column, pointing out the evidence uncovered by The Firearms Coalition, and I passed that evidence on to congressional investigators. Two years later, when the Senate held confirmation hearings on Jones’ appointment, I raised these questions again, along with questions about Jones’ conduct toward whistleblowers. Again, I shared my concerns, and the evidence behind them, with members of Congress, asking them to get answers, and again, nothing happened.
Instead, my own senator from Arizona, John McCain, led a small group of Republicans who broke ranks and voted with the Democrats to bring Jones’ nomination to a vote. Finally, after the Senate confirmed him, I brought the questions up one more time, and expressed skepticism that we would see any real changes in the incompetence, corruption, and seriously distorted priorities of the ATF under Jones’ leadership.
The subsequent year and a half has borne out my skepticism. The questions remain unanswered. No one has been held accountable for the illegal and immoral program that armed Mexican criminals, resulting in the deaths of two federal agents and countless Mexican nationals, and things are still business-as-usual at ATF. The recent attempt by the agency to ban popular target ammunition and Jones’ suggestion before Congress that all .223/5.56 ammunition poses a significant threat to law enforcement simply add further confirmation that what I, and others, have been saying all along was correct. Jones should never have been given the job, should not have been confirmed by the Senate, and should not be leaving under an umbrella of anything but shame.
What is an absolute mystery is why the NFL would want to pay millions of dollars to someone with a record like Jones’. But then again, the NFL has long demonstrated a disinclination to actually hold players accountable for their off-field actions, preferring to cover up, confuse, and distract rather than come clean and operate with transparency. Maybe Jones really is just the guy they were looking for.
George Santayana famously said; “Those who cannot remember the past are doomed to repeat it,” but what we learn from this ATF mess – and indeed, much of the Obama presidency – is that you can’t remember what you never knew. If we can’t get answers, we must remember that, or else we will only get more and more questions. We may never get answers to what really happened around the Fast and furious debacle, but what is even more disconcerting than that thought is that so many people don’t even remember the questions, much less hold people accountable for failing to provide the answers.