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ATF Chief Steps Down Amid Gunwalking Scandal

2:33 PM, Aug 30, 2011 • By MICHAEL WARREN
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The acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) is stepping down from his role, according to a story at Politico. The ATF and the Justice Department have been plagued by a recent scandal surrounding the controversial "Fast and Furious" operation, which involved feds providing guns to Mexican criminals for the purpose of tracking smugglers (a practice known as "gunwalking"). ATF's interim director, Kenneth Melson, was the focus of recent congressional hearings for his role in the operation. 

Politico reports Melson is being moved to another department after months of intense scrutiny:

[Melson] on Wednesday will move to the Office of Legal Policy, where he will be a senior adviser on forensic science, the department said without making reference to the failed gun-tracking operation that is alleged to have ultimately put guns into the hands of criminals. Dennis Burke, the U.S. Attorney in Arizona who oversaw prosecutions in that state related to the Fast and Furious operation, is also stepping down, the department said. 

“Ken brings decades of experience at the department and extensive knowledge in forensic science to his new role, and I know he will be a valuable contributor on these issues,” Attorney General Eric Holder said of Melson in a statement. “As he moves into this new role, I want to thank Ken for his dedication to the department over the last three decades.”

In July, the WEEKLY STANDARD's Mark Hemingway wrote about ATF's gunwalking scandal:

The Justice Department has been less than forthcoming with congressional investigators. As of the release of the June 14 congressional report, the ATF and Justice Department had been unresponsive to seven letters and a subpoena from the House oversight committee.

Then over the July 4 holiday, things took an unusual turn. Acting ATF director Kenneth Melson appeared before Senate Judiciary Committee and House Oversight and Government Reform investigators. Remarkably, Melson made the appearance with his private attorney rather than with Justice Department representatives, consistent with Melson’s reported contention that higher-ups in the Justice Department had been trying to muzzle him.

Melson told congressional investigators that the gunwalking operation was part of a special task force being run by the U.S. attorney’s office in Phoenix. Further, even in his capacity heading up the ATF, he had no knowledge of what was going on. Melson’s testimony came in the wake of a June 18 Wall Street Journal report on the Justice Department pressuring him to resign over the scandal. If Melson truly didn’t know the operational details even as the Justice Department was maneuvering to make him the fall guy, it’s no wonder he would get his own attorney, break his silence, and implicate the Justice Department.

It also appears that numerous other law enforcement agencies—including the FBI, DEA, ICE, U.S. Marshals, and Homeland Security—were involved in Fast and Furious to varying degrees. Again, the coordination of that many law enforcement agencies clearly points to involvement at high levels of the Justice Department.

Read the whole thing here.

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