Kenneth Melson, acting director of the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms, and Explosives, is facing pressure to resign over a controversial gun-trafficking operation that is being blamed for the death of a U.S. border agent.
The ATF program, dubbed Operation Fast and Furious, was designed to monitor the illegal sale and transfer of guns from the U.S. to Mexican drug cartels.
At a House Oversight Committee hearing last week, ATF agents told lawmakers that instead of arresting the small-time buyers, they were instructed to stand by and watch to see where the guns went in an effort to build a case against bigger arms dealers.
Doing so, however, meant that U.S. guns wound up in the hands of the Mexican drug cartels. And after Border Patrol agent Brian Terry was murdered in a shootout along the Arizona-Mexico border in December, two weapons found on the scene were linked that the “Fast and Furious” program.
"ATF is supposed to be the sheepdog that protects against the wolves that prey upon our southern border," ATF agent John Dodson said at the hearing. "Rather than meet the wolf head-on, we sharpened its teeth and added number to its claws, all the while we sat idly by -- watching, tracking and noting as it became a more efficient killer."
Dodson said agents were never given reasonable answers why their activities were limited.
An ATF supervisor in Phoenix, Peter Forcelli, said some tried to raise concerns with supervisors but were rebuffed.
"My concerns were dismissed," he told the committee. "I believe that these firearms will continue to turn up at crime scenes, on both sides of the border, for years to come."
Republicans and Democrats on the panel expressed outrage about the ATF program and demanded answers from the Obama administration about why arrests were secondary to tracking the firearms, Reuters reported.
On Saturday, the Wall Street Journal reported that the Justice Department was moving forward with plans to replace Melson as head of the ATF.
Two senior federal law enforcement officials told CNN on Monday that Melson is expected to resign as early as Monday or Tuesday.
The ATF would neither confirm nor deny Melson’s potential departure early Monday afternoon, telling Politico that the agency is “not commenting on any speculation or any of the news reports.”