ROBERT SIEGEL, host: The Federal Bureau of Alcohol Tobacco and Firearms also has a new leader, Todd Jones, and he arrives at a critical moment for the ATF. The agency is under pressure from Republicans in Congress after a botched gun trafficking operation known as Fast and Furious. The scandal is the reason Jones is now in the top job. Both his predecessor and a top prosecutor were forced out. Veterans of the ATF say this is the biggest crisis they've seen since the fiery siege at Waco, Texas almost two decades ago.
And as NPR's Carrie Johnson reports, the Obama administration is counting on the new acting director to try to get the agency back on track.
CARRIE JOHNSON: Todd Jones spent years as a U.S. Marine and he's got the direct approach to prove it. Here's what he says about his plans for the troubled ATF.
TODD JONES: There are going to be some changes that happen. And there'll be a refocusing on our primary mission, which is violent crime.
JOHNSON: Violent crime as opposed to big sting operations or national security cases. Jones has been listening to employees in Washington and he'll soon be headed out for meetings across the country. He says ATF employees should not be consumed by two big congressional investigations of the agency's conduct or an ongoing review by the Justice Department's inspector general.
JONES: Do not be distracted. This is a good agency. It's got a lot of professionals in it. It's got an expertise I think that doesn't exist in other parts of the government.
JOHNSON: Darrell Issa, a Republican member of Congress from California, is leading one of those congressional probes into the failed gun trafficking operation. Issa says he thinks Todd Jones is an honorable person, but Issa adds that he's not done with his investigation of ATF or higher-ups at the Justice Department.
Representative DARRELL ISSA REPUBLICAN, CALIFORNIA: This is not about individual people, because individual people will always be flawed. This is about a system that allowed those flaws to go on for a long period of time and not have the kind of check and balance that the American people expect.
JOHNSON: Meanwhile, inside the ATF, some agents have worried that Jones, the top federal prosecutor in Minnesota, might not understand what investigators do. But Jones says he commanded a military police unit in the Marines. And Tim Dolan, the police chief in Minneapolis, says he wants Jones on his side in a fight.
TIM DOLAN: He's somebody that you want standing there next to you when things are going badly.
JOHNSON: Dolan says he's worked closely with Jones to reduce gun violence in the city. Recently, Jones found a way to bring a federal case against two men who robbed a coffee shop and pistol-whipped employees there. Jones got prison sentences of almost 30 years for both of them. Under the old approach, they would have gotten much shorter sentences in the state courts, Dolan says.
DOLAN: Anybody that meets him is going to have a hard time not liking Todd Jones. He's the type of guy when, like I say, when the going gets tough, he can be one of the toughest people in the room.
JOHNSON: And Jones has been in tough spots before. Minnesota Democratic Senator Amy Klobuchar nominated Jones to be the U.S. attorney in the state. She says he was the best person to take charge of a place that had suffered under allegations of cronyism in the George W. Bush years.
Senator AMY KLOBUCHAR: Todd walked in an office that had been bruised and had been in the news when in fact they had always had this amazing reputation. And he really righted the ship and did a great job, and the office is back to where it once was.
JOHNSON: Jones will serve as the ATF's acting director. Given the political fights over gun rights, it's unlikely he or anyone else will be confirmed by the Senate. So Jones is keeping his job as U.S. attorney in Minnesota, which could require some juggling. But Klobuchar says if Jones can handle his five children, he can handle balancing both those jobs. Carrie Johnson, NPR News, Washington.
NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.