When the U.S. Senate began a hearing Tuesday on whether Minnesota U.S. Attorney B. Todd Jones should head the federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms, senators critical of his nomination went after him.
During a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing, U.S. Sen. Chuck Grassley of Iowa challenged Jones about whether the ATF had punished leaders of a failed gun-running sting called "Fast and Furious" that left a U.S. agent dead.
Grassley, a Republican, also raised concerns about Jones's work as U.S. Attorney and read aloud from an anonymous letter detailing allegations against him.
"Since he became U.S. Attorney here in Minnesota, he has instituted a climate of fear, has pushed employees out of the office, dismissed employees wrongly, violated the hiring practices of EEOC and instituted an Orwellian style of management," Grassley read.
In response, Jones said he made tough management decisions when he took over the Minnesota office and that not every employee reacted well.
"I quite frankly have been an agent of change and change is hard sometimes for individuals to deal with and I've always had a focus on doing the right thing for the right reasons," Jones said.
U.S. Senator Amy Klobuchar, a Democrat who worked closely with Jones during his first stint as U.S. Attorney in the 1990s while she was the Hennepin Country Attorney, regularly defended Jones during the hearing from what she later described as "attacks."
"To make clear, he came in after Fast and Furious," said Klobuchar, who chaired the hearing. Jones has served as the bureau's temporary head while also keeping his job in Minnesota.
Klobuchar had nothing but praise for Jones' work ethic while leading two different law enforcement bodies.
"For the past two years, Todd Jones has been doing the impossible," Klobuchar said.
Besides questioning his management style, Republicans asked Jones why, in their view, Jones had not prosecuted existing federal gun laws vigorously enough in Minnesota.
"There are allegations of gross mismanagement and abuse of authority in Mr. Jones' office," said Grassley, who has slowed Jones' nomination since it was first announced in January.
Many of those allegations involve personnel matters. Jones was unapologetic, saying the ATF needed a shakeup.
U.S. Sen. Al Franken, a Democrat, asked Jones how across-the-board federal budget cuts have affected the bureau, which was heavily involved in the Boston bombing investigation.
"You're cutting bone and you're impeding, I believe, our ability to be as effective as we have been as lean as we have been over the last four or five years," Jones said.
Jones will have to wait a while longer to learn if the Senate will confirm his nomination, as no vote has been scheduled. If confirmed, Jones would be the first permanent head of the ATF since 2006.