I think that it is safe to assume that Kenneth Melson is on his way out as Acting Director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives. The testimoney on last Wednesday plus the documents released by House Oversight Committee Chairman Darrell Issa (R-CA) were the nails in the coffin of his short career with ATF.
Moreover, both the Wall Street Journal and FoxNews have reported that the Department of Justice is making moves to replace Melson as head of ATF. They are also reporting that Andrew Traver, SAC of the Chicago Field Division and nominee to be the Director of the agency, is expected to meet with Attorney General Eric Holder and Deputy Attorney General James Cole on Tuesday. Regarding Traver’s meeting with Holder and Cole, FoxNews says:
Officials at the Justice Department and the White House say it’s “speculative” to conclude that Traver’s arrival in Washington is a sign that the Obama administration is looking to oust Melson in the wake of the politically damaging operation.
But The Wall Street Journal, which was first to report Traver’s return, said sources indicated that the administration is weighing whether to name him as acting director or choose another interim chief while awaiting Senate action on his nomination.
This leads to three questions: When will Melson be ousted, will Melson roll on his Department of Justice superiors after he is thrown under the bus, and who will replace Melson as head of ATF?
I think the answer to the first question is soon. The Obama Administration has shown no hesitation to throw people under the bus when they have become inconvenient. According to his official biography, Melson has 28 years or so of Federal service starting in the U.S. Attorney’s Office for the Eastern District of Virginia. My guess is that he will announce that he has decided to retire.
As to the second question on whether Melson will roll on his DOJ superiors, I think it will depend upon whether any deals are made to assure that Melson does not face any criminal charges over Project Gunwalker and that he can keep his pension. By my estimate, he is looking at receiving close to $100,000 annually in pension income and that is probably a low calculation.
Given that Melson has spent the bulk of his career within the Department of Justice and has risen to the Senior Executive Service ranks, I think it is a reasonable assumption to make that he understands the ways of the DOJ bureaucracy and has low friends in high places with whom he has traded favors in the past. While his outward appearance is that of a bland functionary, he didn’t get to be the head of ATF and the Director of the Executive Office of U.S. Attorneys before that on talent alone. He had to do some political and bureaucratic in-fighting to get to that level. The question remains whether it is in his personal interest to take the politicians down with him when he leaves ATF.
Finally, who will be tapped to replace Melson? The obvious answer would be Andrew Traver. He is the nominee to be the permanent Director and a good performance as Acting Director might go a long way to removing some of the objections to him becoming the Director.
That said, the rank and file of ATF agents have given up on Traver. From some of the comments on CleanUpATF.org:
Traver can not lead this agency back. He has already lost any faith or hope by sitting silent. How can a person who is an SES SAC and been publicly named as our nominee sit through the last six months of this agencies events without a uttering a peep? Nothing. No one has heard a word from him. And you call that leadership? More like Rohm (sic) Emanuel’s buddy from Chicago is all that is. – “Microscope”
Now that our Bureau is totally defunct and dysfunctional, Melson leaves. Why is anybody even mentioning Travers’ name? He was trained and mentored by Martin, Billy, John Torres and is as non-inspirational as any of our leadership currently pending Congressional review. I defy any ATF employee to articulate Travers’ views or position on the current state of the Bureau. Whats his opinion? He doesn’t have one. He has sat on the sidelines watching the ship go down as the NOMINEE. He didn’t want to leave his gravy train in Chicago unless they confirmed him. That’s cowardly and self serving.
Not one peep out of him because he’s a politician, not a COP. He was a marginal Agent, a poor Supervisor and a worthless Manager. He’s in it for personal gain. Otherwise, why did he not demand to take the reins? I’ll tell you why, he was told to sit silent and stay out of the fray. Andy, when in command, command. He has an agenda, and there is NO room for agenda in ATF. Only MISSION. Leave the politics to the politicians. Gene Hackman said in the movie the “Replacements”, “Players want the ball”. Andy doesn’t want the ball until Obama and Holder say he can have it. Does that sound like a warrior? OUTSIDE Law Enforcement leadership is our only hope NO MORE Lawyers, and NO more ATF followers like Hoover, Melson, Chait, McMahon and the others. Crazy wiretaps under Martin that got zero guns off the street, but did seized one black rhino horn. No more lies to Congress or like legal, ethical conduct by counsel? No more Thomasson spins. Seriously, Scott? “Mr. Melson continues to focus on firearms violence and stemming the flow of guns.”?? Do you read that shit before you put it out?
Word is that Traver has been feverishly throwing together a NEW reorganization all weekend, but you can’t just reorganize and make this go away. And why would you, without having boots on the ground before you start knee jerking?
It’s all just SMOKE and MIRRORS. – “Doc Holliday”
Traver might be an improvement but he seems secretive, withdrawn and unimaginative. This is not my role model of somebody to lead us out of a very dark place. – “Valkyrie”
If the Obama Administration is smart, they will appoint a respected law enforcement official – retired Chief of Police or retired head of another Federal law enforcement agency – from outside of ATF to take over the agency as a caretaker while they begin to clean house starting with the Chief Counsel’s Office. Unfortunately for ATF, I don’t think they are that smart.
UPDATE: The Washington Post is reporting on the meeting scheduled today between Andrew Traver and DOJ officials. An official speaking anonymously states that Traver may be offered the job on an acting basis and that Kenneth Melson will be ousted.
The interesting part of the story is that other law enforcement sources report that Melson believes he has done nothing wrong.
But law enforcement and other sources said Melson has told associates that he believes he has done nothing wrong. Officials said the White House is watching the situation warily and is concerned about the ATF but has not asked for Melson’s resignation.
The conflicting reports reflected the troubled state of a small agency that enforces federal gun laws but is itself increasingly in the crossfire.
If Melson believes in his own mind that he has done nothing wrong then all bets are off about him leaving ATF quietly. In the past, the Obama Administration has depended upon loyalists making the sacrifice willingly to protect the President and the administration from more controversy. This could get very interesting very quickly and Eric Holder could end up being the loyalist thrown under the bus.