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Congressional leaders question ATF's Jones on conflicting information

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Four highly-placed members of Congress sent a letter Friday to Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Director B. Todd Jones questioning why key personnel reassignment, instead of accountability and discipline, was the official response to a notorious Milwaukee-based “storefront sting” operation, the Journal Sentinel reported. The letter then asked what Professional Review Board actions have been taken, questioned a conflict with Jones’ written statement that no disciplinary action had been proposed, and sought specifics surrounding the announced retirement of the key supervisor responsible for the mismanaged operation.

“'Operation Fearless’ was rife with blunders, including theft of an assault rifle and two handguns from the primary undercover agent’s government vehicle, the burglary of the undercover storefront, the recruitment by ATF agents of an allegedly brain-damaged man to coordinate gun deals, and an utter lack of management,” the House Judiciary Committee noted in a February press release. “Around the same time of this botched operation, similar problematic storefront undercover operations were being conducted in several other cities across the U.S.”

Questioning Jones on information he provided at that is at odds with information provided by the Office of Professional Responsibility and Security Operations related to their proposed disciplinary action, Friday’s letter, signed by Senate Judiciary Committee Ranking Member Chuck Grassley, House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform Chair Darrell Issa, House Committee on the Judiciary Chair Bob Goodlatte, and House Subcommittee on Crime, Terrorism, Homeland Security, and Investigations Committee on the Judiciary Chair Jim Sensenbrenner, further stated “it is not clear what action, if any, ATF took to determine whether [Special Agent in Charge Bernard “B.J.”] Zapor should be disciplined for his role in Operation Fearless.

“Press reports indicate that SAC Zapor recently received an order of reassignment to ATF’s Newark Field Office,” the letter continued, citing a May 6 Journal Sentinel report. “According to this press report, rather than accept the reassignment, Zapor instead announced his retirement.”

The letter then presented a series of eight questions intended to elicit unequivocal answers to decisions and actions directly related to the Zapor matter. While it does not reference an exclusive Gun Rights Examiner report based on information received from a confidential source, the questions should help determine whether management pressured Zapor to retire mere months after Jones had expressed confidence in him to Congress.

That column presented informed insider observations that the Newark assignment had been a sudden afterthought to derail a potential lawsuit and force the decision to self-terminate on Zapor, in order to avoid yet another visible and embarrassing management debacle. It further noted the level of wasteful and contorted “musical chairs” personnel reassignment and relocation moves needed to pull that off.

The same whistleblower source contacted this correspondent yesterday evening to express the opinion that questions raised in this column’s May 9 report have influenced this latest congressional inquiry. What remains to be seen now is how much stonewalling in response to the letter, which requests a response by June 2, will occur, and how much information Jones will withhold under a claim of “Privacy Act” provisions against disclosing personnel matters.