Yesterday, the Senate Judiciary Committee held a confirmation hearing for B. Todd Jones, the part-time acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. Jones also serves as the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, where it is alleged that he mismanaged the prosecutor’s office and presided over a “climate of fear.”
Sen. Charles E. Grassley (Iowa), the committee’s ranking Republican, criticized Jones on several fronts, including over an inquiry into a controversial civil case involving the U.S. attorney’s office in Minnesota, a harsh letter about Jones’s leadership from a former FBI official in the state, and allegations by a whistleblower assistant U.S. attorney that Jones took actions against him.
“Why are we even here today?” Grassley asked rhetorically. “There are allegations of gross mismanagement and abuse of authority in Mr. Jones’s office, and there is a complaint that Mr. Jones retaliated against a whistleblower.”
Employees at the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota claimed that they were being mistreated in a letter to the Office of Special Counsel, last July, and called the office a “hostile work environment.”
The letter also asked the OSC to “come to this office and investigate the actions of not only B. Todd Jones, but those who he has put in positions that further his dictator style and created this atmosphere of fear among us.”
The U.S. Office of Special Counsel recently informed the Senate that because of “insufficient evidence” it has dismissed allegations of gross mismanagement and abuse of authority. The whistleblower’s charge of retaliation has been referred for mediation.
Jones took Kenneth Melson’s place as ATF Director in August of 2011 after Melson was reassigned to another position at the Justice Department’s headquarters in Washington.
Senator Ted Cruz focused his questioning on a point he raised when the Senate was considering new gun legislation in the wake of Newtown school massacre. He wanted to know what Jones had to say about the data that shows there were 48,321 attempts by felons to buy firearms illegally in 2010, but only 44 were prosecuted by federal authorities.
“I would suggest the data demonstrate it is not a priority of the Obama Justice Department,” Cruz said. “In my view, it’s completely unacceptable.”
“It’s a small number,” Jones conceded. But, he added, “the number doesn’t tell the story about what the department has done” on higher priority cases involving armed career criminals, felons with guns and “straw” buyers who get guns for drug dealers and criminals.
Cruz questioned how Jones could call it a “major priority” to prosecute felons purchasing guns but then present no such cases in court.
Jones said limited prosecutorial resources must be focused on violent crimes and other high-profile cases. “I just want to make sure that’s clear,” Jones said, “so that my testimony is not twisted into something that it’s not.”
Then he added testily: “Your question, sir, was?”
Cruz shot back: “Are there any other so-called ‘major priorities’ on which you have presented zero cases?”As Jones tried to emphasize the importance of violent crimes and white-collar cases with stiffer penalties, Cruz responded, “Mr. Jones, I would note you chose not to answer my question.”