The changes follow months of investigations into the agency’s “Operation Fast and Furious.” That now-defunct initiative, which focused on Mexican gun traffickers, resulted in a congressional inquiry after a U.S. Border Patrol agent was killed in an incident in which Fast and Furious guns were found at the scene.
Law enforcement officials said the personnel moves were the Justice Department’s answer to accusations from congressional Republicans, who have blasted the operation and are pushing to learn whether senior Justice officials in Washington were involved.
Before his resignation, Burke took full responsibility for Fast and Furious in testimony to congressional investigators that was released by House Democrats on Tuesday. “When our office makes mistakes, I need to take responsibility,” he said on Aug. 18. “This is a case . . . it should not have been done the way it was done, and I want to take responsibility for that, and I’m not falling on a sword or trying to cover for anyone else.”
But the personnel moves failed to satisfy the department’s critics on Capitol Hill, who vowed to continue their investigation of Fast and Furious and suggested that other senior officials could be held responsible. The Justice Department’s inspector general is also investigating, at the request of Attorney General Eric H. Holder Jr.
Rep. Darrell Issa (R-Calif.), chairman of the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform, said the changes were “warranted,” but he added that the committee “will continue its investigation to ensure that blame isn’t off-loaded on just a few individuals for a matter that involved much higher levels of the Justice Department.’’
Although law enforcement officials said no further high-level changes are planned, Sen. Charles E. Grassley (R-Iowa), who is helping lead the congressional probe, said Tuesday that he “wouldn’t be surprised to see more fallout beyond the resignations and new assignments announced today.”
He called the announcements “an admission by the Obama administration that serious mistakes were made in Operation Fast and Furious.”
Melson, another senior ATF official and Burke have told congressional investigators that senior Justice officials were unaware of the tactics used in Fast and Furious.
Melson will be replaced at ATF by B. Todd Jones, the U.S. attorney in Minnesota. Burke, who worked closely with ATF and whose office gave legal backing for Fast and Furious, is being replaced on an acting basis by his deputy, Ann Scheel. Emory Hurley, an assistant U.S. attorney in Phoenix who helped oversee the gun-trafficking operation, is being transferred from the office’s criminal division to its civil division, meaning he will not be involved in criminal cases.