The fallout from a controversial federal probe that allowed weapons to be smuggled into Mexico dramatically intensified Tuesday with the reassignment of the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives and the resignation of the Phoenix U.S. attorney who oversaw the operation.
Acting ATF Director Kenneth Melson, who himself criticized the so-called Fast and Furious investigation for allowing so many weapons to cross the border, will take a less visible job, as senior adviser on forensic science policy issues at the Justice Department.
There was no word on the future of Dennis Burke, who resigned suddenly as U.S. attorney for the District of Arizona. In addition, Assistant U.S. Attorney Emory Hurley, who worked on the case, was reportedly reassigned within the Phoenix federal prosecutor’s office.
Melson will be replaced as acting ATF director by B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney in Minnesota and the chair of the Attorney General Advisory Committee, which counsels Attorney General Eric Holder on policy, management and operational issues. Jones will continue to serve as a U.S. Attorney even after he becomes the ATF acting director on Wednesday, the Justice Department said.
Melson, a former U.S. attorney and Justice Department official, took over as acting director in April 2009.
The Fast and Furious operation has been the source of turmoil since it was revealed earlier this year that ATF agents spent 15 months watching men suspected of working for a Mexican drug cartel buy firearms at Arizona gun shops without making arrests. The suspects bought nearly 2,000 firearms, approximately 200 of which were later recovered from crime scenes in Mexico.