Kenneth Melson, the acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, has been replaced today in wake of the embarrassing illegal gun tracking sting named Operation Fast and Furious. Melson will become senior advisor on forensic science in the Office of Legal Policy, according to a Justice Department release. His replacement is B. Todd Jones, U.S. Attorney for the district of Minnesota. Reports earlier this morning noted that Melson would be forced out of the position following the Fast and the Furious scandal, which has come under investigation after weapons connected with the operation were discovered at the scene of a murder involving a U.S. border agent last year. As the Los Angeles Times described the botched operation:
Under Melson's leadership, ATF launched Operation Fast and Furious, through which agents were to watch -- and in some cases record on video -- illegal gun sales and then use surveillance teams and electronic eavesdropping to follow the guns and learn how the weapons were moved. The goal was to arrest cartel leaders overseeing gun smuggling on the U.S. side of the border with Mexico.
But the chase for guns and cartel leaders soon hit a dead end. The ATF was attempting to follow each of the weapons as they were moved from the straw men who bought them illegally at gun shops to what officials expected would be cartel higher-ups in the U.S., who would move them to Mexico.
But the ATF, which didn't have the resources to follow so many weapons, soon lost track of many of them. When officials did follow them to the next level, the buyers of the guns often turned out to be Mexicans living legally in the U.S. and not cartel honchos.
In the DoJ press release announcing Melson's departure as acting head, there's no mention of the botched gun-tracking operation:
DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE ANNOUNCES NEW ACTING DIRECTOR OF ATF
AND SENIOR ADVISOR IN THE OFFICE OF LEGAL POLICY
WASHINGTON – The Department of Justice today announced the appointments of U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota B. Todd Jones to serve as Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF) and ATF Acting Director Kenneth Melson to become Senior Advisor on forensic science in the Office of Legal Policy (OLP).
“As a seasoned prosecutor and former military judge advocate, U.S. Attorney Jones is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position,” said Attorney General Eric Holder. “I have great confidence that he will be a strong and steady influence guiding ATF in fulfilling its mission of combating violent crime by enforcing federal criminal laws and regulations in the firearms and explosives industries.”
Jones will continue to serve in the capacity of U.S. Attorney when he assumes the role of ATF acting director on Aug. 31, 2011.
A veteran of the Justice Department, Jones has served as U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota under two presidential administrations. He first served from 1998 to 2001. He was nominated again in 2009 by President Obama and has been in that role since being confirmed that year.
In 2009, the Attorney General appointed him to serve as chair of the Attorney General Advisory Committee (AGAC), a group of U.S. Attorneys appointed to advise the Attorney General on policy, management and operational issues affecting U.S. Attorneys’ Offices throughout the country. Jones previously served as a member, vice chair and chair of the AGAC from 1999 to 2001.
During his several years as a federal prosecutor, Jones conducted grand jury investigations and has been the lead trial lawyer in many federal prosecutions involving drug trafficking, firearms, financial fraud and violent crime.
Throughout his career, Jones has served as a partner with Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi (2001-2009); a partner with Greene Espel, PLLP (2001; 1994-1997); First Assistant U.S. Attorney for the District of Minnesota (1997-1998); and Assistant U.S. Attorney (1992-1994).
Following admission to the Minnesota bar, Jones went on active duty in the U.S. Marine Corps, where he served as both a trial defense counsel and prosecutor in a number of courts martial proceedings.
Jones received his B.A. from Macalester College in 1979 and his J.D. from the University of Minnesota Law School in 1983.
Melson will join OLP on Aug. 31, 2011, in his new role as senior advisor where he will focus on issues relating to policy development in forensic science.
“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,” said Attorney General Holder. “As he moves into this new role, I want to thank Ken for his dedication to the department over the last three decades.”
He is a past president and distinguished fellow of the American Academy of Forensic Sciences, and currently participates on behalf of the department on the American Society of Crime Laboratory Directors/Laboratory Accreditation Board. He has been an adjunct professor at George Washington University for almost 30 years teaching both law and forensic science courses.
Melson was appointed acting director of ATF in 2009. Prior to that, he was director of the Executive Office for U.S. Attorneys and served several years in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia.
Melson received his B.A. from Denison University in 1970 and his J.D. from George Washington University in 1973.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.