The nomination of B. Todd Jones to become the permanent head of the ATF could be in for a bumpy ride. Jones is the interim director of the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives, and also serves as the U.S. attorney for Minnesota. This week a former FBI special agent cast doubt on Jones' ability to head the ATF.
On Friday another Jones critic backed up those complaints, while the list of Jones' defenders also grew.
Retired FBI agent Don Oswald shook up the Twin Cities law enforcement community when he sent a letter to the Senate Judiciary Committee laying out a string of complaints against Jones.
Oswald, who led the agency's Minneapolis Division from May 2011-May 2012, told MPR News he was shocked to hear that Jones was nominated for the ATF job.
"I have no axe to grind with Mr. Jones personally. I retired in good standing, moved to south Florida. I will likely never see the man again," said Oswald. "It just offended my principles that a man that was so uncooperative in his position as the head of the federal law enforcement office in Minnesota could be nominated to lead a federal agency, that I felt compelled to write this letter."
Oswald's letter describes Jones as uncooperative and as an "impediment for federal law enforcement," particularly on violent gang, drug and gun crimes. The letter lists several cases where Jones and assistant U.S. Attorney Carol Kayser declined to file federal charges.
Oswald alleges Jones' inaction on cases led them to be heard in state court instead, where sentences that offenders faced could be shorter.
Retired Minneapolis Police Chief Tim Dolan worked with Jones during his time in the department, and attributes the criticism of Jones to a change in federal priorities.
"We can understand that, and they were very, very clear about that," Dolan said, adding that the U.S. Attorney's office under Jones has shifted more attention to homeland security, public corruption and white-collar crime.
"Those areas that are priorities are important, and nobody else really is touching those areas," said Dolan.
Jones was responsive and available to consult on cases, Dolan added. He and St. Paul police officials both credit Jones for initiating the Safe Streets anti-gang effort.
The Safe Streets Task Force is a collaboration between the FBI, the state Bureau of Criminal Apprehension and the Minneapolis and St. Paul police departments.
Former St. Paul Police Chief John Harrington also said Jones was effective.
"He was phenomenally good in terms of getting the response to the Minnesota Gang Strike Force debacle reconstituted, and getting the FBI on track with putting together the Safe Streets organization which we'd been waiting for that for a long time, so his drive to get that done right away was phenomenal," said Harrington.
Others in the Twin Cities who have worked with Jones echoed those sentiments.
But one former law enforcement official who did not want his name used told MPR News that everything in former FBI agent Oswald's letter rings true.
The official corroborated Oswald's allegations that the U.S. attorneys' office improperly declined strong cases the office has traditionally prosecuted.
The source says frustration over Jones and his staff's refusal to take cases is shared by personnel at law enforcement agencies across the Twin Cities.
A spokesperson for the U.S. Attorney's office disputes the allegations in Oswald's letter, calling them inaccurate or mischaracterizations.
Both of Minnesota's U.S. senators, Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, sit on the judiciary committee which will consider Jones' nomination. Klobuchar's office released a statement saying the committee will look closely at Jones' record, as well as the claims made by retired FBI agent Don Oswald.
Another possible roadblock for Jones' confirmation comes from U.S. Sen. Charles Grassley, R-Iowa, has vowed to hold up the nomination for unrelated reasons.