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OPINION

ATF officials demoted in latest Fast and Furious fallout

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WASHINGTON | Two top supervisors at the headquarters of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives — the deputy director and the assistant director for field operations — were reassigned as the beleaguered agency attempts to remake itself in the fallout from the failed Fast and Furious gun-tracking operation.

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William J. Hoover, the No. 2 man at ATF, will become special agent-in-charge of the agency’s Washington, D.C., field office. Mark Chait, who ran all of the field investigations around the country, will head the Baltimore field office.

Thomas Brandon, who was sent from Detroit to Phoenix to run the field office there and help it recover from the repercussions of Fast and Furious, will be taking Hoover’s spot as deputy director.

The new assignments, along with other job changes, were announced Wednesday by B. Todd Jones, the U.S. Attorney in Minneapolis who was named acting head of the ATF earlier this year. He replaced top ATF chief Kenneth Melson, who earlier this year was reassigned to a lower-level position in the Department of Justice.

Jones said he hopes the agency can regroup and look beyond the failures of Fast and Furious. Under the operation, AFT agents purposefully allowed licensed firearms dealers to sell weapons to illegal straw buyers, hoping to track the guns to Mexican drug cartel leaders and arrest them. But they lost track of more than 2,000 weapons. Two were discovered at the scene of a U.S. Border Patrol agent’s slaying in Arizona. “I have assembled a team to move ATF forward in its mission to fight violent crime and protect the American people,” he said, “and to ensure that an experienced and strong staff is in place to implement that mission.”

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He added, “We’re going to hit the reset button.”

He thanked those newly reassigned to other spots in the agency, and praised “their flexibility and willingness to take on the tasks at hand.”

As deputy director, Hoover had broad supervision over Fast and Furious and was given routine updates on the “gun walking” operation. As time went on, ATF emails indicate, he grew concerned over the number of firearms reaching Mexico without any U.S. indictments on this side of the border.

He tried to shut the program down six months after it began in the fall of 2009. But Fast and Furious continued until January of this year. During that time a U.S. Border Patrol agent was murdered in Arizona and two Fast and Furious weapons were recovered at the scene.

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