WASHINGTON — It was always going to be hard for President Obama to get the U.S. Senate to confirm his nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, Minnesota federal prosecutor B. Todd Jones.
Carolyn N. Lerner, the head of the [Justice Department’s] Office of Special Counsel, wrote in an April 12 letter to Senate Judiciary Chairman Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and ranking Republican Charles E. Grassley of Iowa that her office has launched an investigation into allegations that Jones retaliated against a subordinate while working as the U.S. attorney in Minnesota, a position he has held since August 2009. Jones has worked simultaneously as the ATF’s acting director since August 2011.
The subordinate, an assistant U.S. attorney, “alleges that personnel actions, including a suspension and a lower performance appraisal, were taken in retaliation for protected whistle-blowing or other protected activity,” according to Lerner’s letter, which was provided to CQ Roll Call by an aide to Grassley, the top Republican on the Senate Judiciary Committee. The assistant U.S. attorney’s complaint was filed March 11, two months after Obama nominated Jones to the ATF position.
Lerner wrote that her office is also reviewing a second complaint against Jones made by the same assistant U.S. attorney, alleging “gross mismanagement and abuses of authority in the Narcotics and Violent Crime Section of the U.S. Attorney’s Office, District of Minnesota.” That complaint, also filed March 11, is still being vetted and has not been referred for an investigation, she wrote.
So here’s the growing list of hurdles Jones’s nomination faces:
- First and foremost, the Senate has never had much of an appetite for confirming ATF directors, and has not done so since it got that power in 2006. So right off the bat, that imperils any nominee’s chances.
- Republicans have dogged the Obama administration over the bungled “Fast and Furious” sting operation, and the president named Jones acting ATF head after its failure became public. Republicans want to know what Jones did at ATF after Fast and Furious, and even the smallest connection to the operation damages him as a nominee to head ATF full-time.
- At least one former colleague has attacked Jones’ management of the U.S. Attorney’s Office in Minnesota. A long list of officials came out to show support for Jones after that became public, but claims of impropriety are probably enough to keep already-skittish senators from supporting him.
- Today’s news about an internal affairs investigation is certainly enough to further delay Senate action on Jones’s nomination and, depending on the length, focus and results of the inquiry, might sink him entirely.
From the minute Obama nominated Jones, it was doubtful the Senate was going to be able to confirm him. Every drib and drab of bad news since then makes that even more unlikely.
Devin Henry can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.