ATF director: ‘Mistakes were made’

B. Todd Jones, right, says challenges are ahead for ATF. (WTOP/J.J. Green)

J.J. Green,

WASHINGTON – Seated at a table with a 471-page report in front of him and congressional lawmakers on TV screens nearby reviewing the document that excoriated his agency, B. Todd Jones prepares to move ahead with the next chapter in ATF history.

In an exclusive interview with WTOP, Jones – acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives – described the report critical of his bureau in relation to the failed Fast and Furious gun-walking scheme as “a professional hit.”

“This is very difficult on people inside the organization,” he says. “Yesterday was a sad day because mistakes were made clearly and we’re working hard to not make those mistakes again.”

However, Jones says there are a lot of dedicated men and women at his organization who didn’t have anything to do with Operation Fast and Furious and continue to work hard every day.

The report released by U.S. Department of Justice Inspector General (OIG) Michael E. Horowitz says officials, including Assistant Attorney General Lanny Breuer, should be punished for their roles in connection with Fast and Furious. The failed scheme led to the death of at least one U.S. Border Patrol agent.

The report, which sums up a 19-month investigation, details what it calls “a pattern of serious failures in both ATF’s and the U.S. Attorney’s Office’s handling of the investigations and the Department of Justice’s response to Congressional inquiries” about the scheme. As a result of the report, a deputy assistant attorney general has resigned.

During the operation, ATF facilitated the sale of more than 2,000 guns in order to investigate alleged connections between U.S. gun purchases and violent crime in Mexico. Approximately 200 weapons were traced to crime scenes in Mexico.

But on Dec. 14, 2010, any success that the operation might have claimed evaporated shortly after Agent Brian Terry was killed. His death was linked to weapons allowed into Mexico.

On Feb. 15, 2011, U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement agent Jaime Zapata was shot to death by Mexican drug cartel members in northern Mexico. Federal investigators traced the gun used to kill Zapata to a Dallas-area man.

The OIG report found no evidence that Attorney General Eric Holder was informed about Operation Fast and Furious, or that he learned about the tactics employed by ATF in the investigation prior to Jan. 31, 2011.

Holder, who was held in contempt of Congress over the scandal, released a statement saying, “I have reviewed the Office of the Inspector General’s report on Operation Fast and Furious and the key conclusions are consistent with what I, and other Justice Department officials, have said for many months now.”

Holder’s statement also said:

    “The inappropriate strategy and tactics employed were field-driven and date back to 2006; The leadership of the Department did not know about or authorize the use of the flawed strategy and tactics; and The Department’s leadership did not attempt to cover up information or mislead Congress about it.”

Horowitz did not recommend criminal charges for any of the officials mentioned in the report. He said U.S. firearms officials failed to exercise appropriate oversight of Fast and Furious.

Jones says he has referred the report’s findings to ATF’s Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations “to determine if any adverse actions are warranted.”

“The Privacy Act prohibits us from discussing any personnel actions related to those named in the report,” he says.

Jones says several challenges are ahead for ATF.

“One is for us to get healthy as an organization, and this is not a cry for more resources, but as the smallest law enforcement component within the Department of Justice and given some of the structural weaknesses in this report, we’ve got to get healthy,” he says.

“We also need to maintain their focus on their core missions of regulatory enforcement of firearms and explosives, and protecting the public from violent crime,” he adds.

Jones says the challenge is making sure that everyone learns from the mistakes, but that no one dwells on them.

You can read the OIG report here.

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(Copyright 2012 by WTOP. All Rights Reserved.)

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