Embattled head of the Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms Kenneth Melson has been reassigned this week to the position of senior advisor on forensic issues, following his role in the disastrous departmental investigation of the Mexican arms ring dubbed Operation Fast and Furious. Melson has faced both public and congressional criticism due to his oversight of a project in which ATF agents watched idly as known criminals purchased thousands of guns from Arizona arms dealers in a long term effort to trace those weapons to the heads of major border crime syndicates. To date, as many as 1900 guns linked to Fast and Furious have yet to be recovered.
For those angered at the U.S. role in fueling gun violence at the Mexican border, Melson’s reassignment is not likely to provide much solace, especially after U.S. Attorney Eric Holder praised the outgoing ATF chief in a press conference announcing the shift. Melson is the fourth official linked to Fast and Furious that has received a job transfer in the past month. Several weeks ago, ATF agents William McMahon, William Newell and David Voth were all promoted within the agency, despite their close involvement with the failed program. As Congress continues its investigation into Fast and Furious, none of its major players have been left without jobs.
For many, these promotions or reassignments have served merely to heighten their rage, especially as guns linked to Fast and Furious continue to show up at crime scenes. At the very least, ATF critics are calling for the immediate resignation of Melson and others directly involved in the investigation. However, many argue that even this would not be enough, calling instead for these individuals to face criminal prosecution and jail time.
In a related news story, Arizona’s top federal prosecutor Dennis Burke also stepped down this week, ostensibly for personal reasons. However, Burke was intimately involved in helping to coordinate Fast and Furious and many cite his resignation as connected to the fallout from the investigation. Still, much like what occurred with Melson’s reassignment, Burke made no mention of let alone an apology for his role in Fast and Furious in his announcement.
In the wake of the announcements of Melson and Burke’s career changes, public debate over the Fast and Furious debacle has reached a fever pitch. If one thing is clear it is that the public is not satisfied that justice is being served in this case. Some individuals will be forced to take responsibility for the deaths that have occurred due to Operation Fast and Furious, and the fallout could eventually reach the upper echelons of the Justice Department.