Kenneth Melson, the acting director of the Bureau of Tobacco, Alcohol and Firearms (ATF), is expected to step down in the wake of the “Fast and Furious” gun-running scheme in which weapons were sold to Mexico’s drug cartels.
Melson, who has been acting director since April 2009, is likely to resign within the next couple of days, says CNN.
Attorney General Eric Holder is to meet with Andrew Traver, head of the ATF field office in Chicago on Tuesday, about replacing Melson, the network says.
Under Operation Fast and Furious and its sister program Project Gunrunner, about 2,000 weapons were sold to so-called straw buyers, who in turn sold them to the cartels. The idea was that it would allow the ATF to trace the weapons and discover who was selling them down the line.
But the plan went disastrously wrong and the weapons have been used in at least 150 shootings. The ATF now admits it lost track of two-thirds of the guns.
The controversy came to a head in December when Border Patrol Agent Brian Terry was murdered in Arizona and two weapons discovered at the scene were found to have been part of Project Gunrunner.
President Barack Obama has acknowledged that the plan was flawed. “There may be a situation here in which a serious mistake was made. If that's the case then we'll find out and we'll hold somebody accountable,” he said in March. Obama said he had no prior knowledge of the operation.
Last week, Iowa Republican Sen. Charles Grassley called for an independent investigation into the operation and called for heads to roll.
Rep. Darrell Issa, R-Calif., said the operation “looks an awful lot like Iran-Contra,” the scandal that put a shadow over Ronald Reagan’s presidency, during congressional hearings he chaired.
During those hearings, John Casa, an agent at the ATF’s Phoenix Field office called the program “a colossal failure of leadership.” He said every time there was a shooting in Arizona, including the one that killed six and seriously injured Democratic U.S. Rep. Gabrielle Giffords, agents worried that guns from the operations could have been involved.
“This happened time and time again,” he testified.
Another agent, John Dodson, told lawmakers, "I cannot begin to think of how the risk of letting guns fall into the hands of known criminals could possibly advance any legitimate law enforcement interest. I hope the committee will receive a better explanation than I."
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