Updated 1:33 p.m.
The embattled head of the federal alcohol, tobacco and firearms bureau, criticized for months for a firearms investigation dubbed "Fast and Furious," was reassigned today, the U.S. Justice Department announced.
Kenneth Melson, who came under fire for a bureau operation that allowed guns to travel from the United States into Mexico, was named today the senior adviser on forensic science for the department’s Office of Legal Policy.
Attorney General Eric Holder Jr. named B. Todd Jones, the U.S. attorney for Minnesota, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives.
In a prepared statement, Holder called Jones a veteran prosecutor and a “demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position.” Jones will take over for Melson on Aug. 31, Holder said.
Jones was a partner with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi from 2001 to 2009 and, earlier, a partner with Greene Espel. He served as an assistant U.S. attorney in Minnesota in the 1990s.
The Justice Department said Melson in his new role will focus on policy development in forensic science. Melson has served as the acting director of ATF since 2009.
The House of Representatives oversight committee chairman Darrell Issa (R-Calif.) and Sen. Chuck Grassley, Republican of Iowa, have led the congressional investigation of the Fast and Furious sting.
The bureau’s operation, critics contend, allowed guns into the hands of drug traffickers in Mexico. One of the firearms flagged in the sting has been linked to the murder of a federal agent.
On July 4, Melson testified before the House Oversight Committee. He told investigators, according to Grassley’s office, that agents witnessed gun transfers from straw purchaers to third parties without follow-up.
Issa and Grassley have long complained that the Justice Department has not fully cooperated in the congressional probe of the ATF gun sting. In a letter last month to Holder, Issa and Grassley said DOJ “seems to have been unable to fully grasp the magnitude and seriousness of this issue.”
This afternoon, Issa issued a statement that said in part: “While the reckless disregard for safety that took place in Operation Fast and Furious certainly merits changes within the Department of Justice, the Oversight and Government Reform Committee will continue its investigation to ensure that blame isn’t offloaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department."
Issa said questions linger about the Fast and Furious operation and who else bears responsibility.
Justice Department officials have said the department is conducting an internal probe of Fast and Furious.
DOJ also said today that Dennis Burke, the U.S. attorney for Arizona, is resigning. Grassley said last month the ATF group that carried out Fast and Furious was under the direct supervision of the Arizona U.S. Attorney’s office.
Holder said in a statement that Burke supervised an office that "has made great progress in its pursuit of justice with the creation of special units focusing on civil rights enforcement and rule of law, as well as more robust outreach to key communities, particularly in Indian Country."