Gunwalker scandal: ATF director out of top job

Updated 4:16 p.m. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives Acting Director Kenneth Melson is being moved out of the top job at the bureau, ATF special agents in charge announced during an internal conference call today. He will transfer to the Justice Department and assume the position of senior advisor on forensic science, Office of Legal Programs.

(Scroll down to read Melson's letter.)

The DOJ announced Melson will be replaced by the U.S. Attorney for Minnesota, Todd Jones.

"As a seasoned prosecutor and former military judge advocate, U.S. Attorney Jones is a demonstrated leader who brings a wealth of experience to this position," said Attorney General Eric Holder.

Also, U.S. Attorney for Arizona Dennis Burke has submitted his resignation to President Obama, effective immediately. In an email sent to his staff Tuesday, Burke says his long tenure in public office has been intensely gratifying and intensely demanding.

Read Burke's resignation letter

Burke was interviewed by Congressional investigators behind closed doors on Aug. 18.

Sources tell CBS News that the Assistant U.S. Attorney in Phoenix, Emory Hurley, who worked under Burke and helped oversee the controversial case is also expected to be transferred out of the Criminal Division into the Civil Division. Justice Department officials provided no immediate comment or confirmation of that move.

The flurry of personnel shifts come as the Inspector General continues investigating the so-called gunwalker scandal at the Justice Department and theATF.

ATF promotes "Fast and Furious" supervisors

ATF denies promotions of controversial figures

The gunwalking scandal centered on an ATF program that allowed thousands of high-caliber weapons to knowingly be sold to so-called "straw buyers" who are suspected as middlemen for criminals. Those weapons, according to the Justice Dept., have been tied to at least 12 violent crimes in the United States, and an unknown number of violent crimes in Mexico.

Dubbed operation "Fast and Furious," the plan was designed to gather intelligence on gun sales, but ATF agents have told CBS News and members of Congress that they were routinely ordered to back off and allow weapons to "walk" when sold.

Previously, ATF Phoenix Special Agent in Charge Bill Newell was reassigned to headquarters, and two Assistant Special Agents in Charge under Fast and Furious, George Gillett and Jim Needles, were also moved to other positions.

Read Melson's memo below:

At noon today, I announced that I was leaving ATF for a position in the Office of Legal Policy at the Department of Justice. That position focuses on the development of forensic science policy and allows me to continue decades of work in that area.

I want to take this opportunity to thank you for allowing me the honor of serving as your Acting Director for the past 28 months. I take with me many fond memories of my time here at ATF and will remain forever humbled to have worked with such a group of dedicated professionals.

I am confident that the men and women who serve the Bureau are, individually, and more importantly, collectively very capable of overcoming the many challenges that are frequently placed in your way.

My one wish would be that the American people truly understood how dedicated and committed you are to the important mission of ATF and to the protection of the American people.

The list of those whose assistance was critical during my tenure is lengthy. I would simply like to thank each of you for your good counsel and support, your leadership, and, most importantly, your friendship --from all those I met in the field to the leadership team here in Headquarters.

My last request of you is to give your fullest support to the new Acting Director.

I look forward to hearing nothing but good news and great accomplishments from ATF. God Speed.

Ken Melson

  • Sharyl Attkisson
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    Sharyl Attkisson is a CBS News investigative correspondent based in Washington.