Right-Wing Media Distort Reality To Tie Obama ATF Director Nominee To Fast And Furious

Right-wing media are trying to damage President Obama's nominee to head the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) by baselessly claiming he was involved in the ATF's failed Operation Fast and Furious.

The failed gun trafficking sting Operation Fast and Furious ended with the indictment of 34 defendants on January 25, 2011. The investigative tactics, which involved the misguided attempt by Arizona ATF agents to track weapons to high-level targets rather than interdicting the traffickers when the opportunity presented itself, concluded some months earlier. The tactics used in Fast and Furious triggered months of controversy and the resignation of then-Acting Director Kenneth Melson. On August 30, 2011, the ATF announced that B. Todd Jones had been appointed acting director.

Conservative media have nonetheless attempted to use a June 11 Senate Judiciary Committee hearing concerning the nomination of Jones for permanent appointment as a springboard to suggest that he was involved in Fast and Furious, which concluded months before he joined ATF.

Mike Huckabee claimed on June 9 edition of his Fox News program that Jones “allegedly helped cover up the [Fast and Furious] scandal” while misidentifying him as “the former number two boss at ATF.” Again misidentifying Jones as “a supervisor at ATF” -- he actually continues to work as a U.S. attorney while serving as acting ATF director -- Huckabee added, “Should we be concerned that here's a guy who knew about Fast and Furious, according to many sources including [ATF whistleblower Vince Cefalu] helped cover it up, now he's going to lead the agency?”

During the segment Fox used a chyron that asked, “What did Obama's pick for ATF Dir. know about 'Fast & Furious'?”

Conservative commentators have also posited that Jones was involved in Fast and Furious because he attended a meeting, in his capacity as chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee of U.S. Attorneys (AGAC), that concerned ATF plans to crack down on the trafficking of guns into Mexico. But there is no evidence the tactics used in Fast and Furious were discussed at that meeting.

In an appearance on the National Rifle Association's radio program, Cam & Company, Fox News contributor Katie Pavlich said that Jones “has Fast and Furious hanging over his head because he was on Eric Holder's Attorney General's advisory board throughout the course of Fast and Furious.”

In articles previewing Jones' appearance before the Senate Judiciary Committee, Pavlich wrote at Townhall.com that Jones "likely knew of Operation Fast and Furious at the beginning" because of his service on the AGAC and also wrote that the acting ATF director “is sure to be questioned about his role in Operation Fast and Furious and his service as an advisor to Attorney General Eric Holder.”

While Pavlich now posits that Jones was involved in Fast and Furious, her April 2012 falsehood-filled book on the operation which cast blame on a number of Justice Department (DOJ) employees, made no mention of Jones, who was employed by DOJ as a U.S. Attorney in Minnesota during Fast and Furious. Similarly, a September 2012 independent report on Fast and Furious authored by the DOJ Office of the Inspector General does not name Jones.

In a June 6 column for birther website WND, Jeff Knox, a gun activist with close ties to the National Rifle Association, also claimed that Jones' role on AGAC suggested that he “might have been in on the meeting where that felony-stupid plan was concocted.”

The meeting Pavlich and Knox are referencing is detailed in the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform's October 29, 2012, report (emphasis added):

On October 23, 2009, Deputy Attorney General Ogden disseminated this strategy to the heads of Department components, including the ATF, DEA, and FBI. The Deputy Attorney General also formed a Southwest Border Strategy Group, which he headed, responsible for implementing the new strategy. The Strategy Group's first meeting was on October 26, 2009, when it assembled to discuss the new strategy. The meeting invitation included Deputy Attorney General Ogden and his deputies Ed Siskel and Kathryn Ruemmler (both of whom would later leave the Justice Department for the White House Counsel's Office); Assistant Attorney General Breuer and his deputies, Jason Weinstein, Kenneth Blanco, and Bruce Swartz; ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson and Deputy Director William Hoover; the U.S. Attorney for the District of Arizona, Dennis Burke; and the U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota, B. Todd Jones, then serving as Chair of the Attorney General's Advisory Committee. The Committees were unable to ascertain any further details regarding this meeting.

But the GOP report makes no claim that the Fast and Furious tactics were discussed at that meeting. Instead, it states that the meeting involved the presentation of a strategy developed by DOJ leaders in Washington to “build cases, coordinating long-term, extensive investigations to identify all the tentacles of a particular organization.” The claim of the GOP report is that “ATF's Phoenix Field Division was particularly interested in key language from the strategy,” which inspired those field agents to incorporate “gunwalking” into their investigations. 

In addition to the Strategy Group on which Jones served, the GOP report says the strategy was shared with the heads of ATF, DEA, and FBI. All of those leaders, along with the DOJ leaders who authored the strategy document, have denied knowing about the controversial tactics used during Fast and Furious.

Indeed, an independent report from the Justice Department's Office of the Inspector General found no evidence that senior leaders at DOJ were aware of the tactics used in Fast and Furious and that the strategy was developed by ATF's Phoenix Field Division and the U.S. Attorney's Office in Arizona.