WASHINGTON -- The Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives said Tuesday that it isn't suppressing the free speech rights of an agent who has written a book about a botched operation that allowed guns to flow to Mexican drug cartels.
ATF Agent John Dodson, whose disclosures about the Arizona-based ATF operation known as Fast and Furious sparked congressional and Justice Department investigations, is trying to publish a book about his experience. Having written the book during his continued employment with the ATF, Dodson had to request that it qualify as outside employment in order to be able to receive any proceeds from publishing the book. ATF officials denied that request, but said he's still free to publish the book after an internal agency review -- as long as he doesn't get paid.
"ATF has not denied the publishing of a manuscript or an individual’s 1st Amendment rights," an ATF spokeswoman said in a statement Tuesday. "We have denied Mr. Dodson outside employment which can be denied for any reason by a supervisor. While his supervisor stated morale and interagency issues for the denial, the fact remains no agent may profit financially from information gained through his federal employment while still an employee."
The dispute, the statement continued, "is not about 1st Amendment rights" but rather "about a current employee trying to profit financially from knowledge he has gained while currently employed as a special agent."
Former U.S. Attorney Marc Jiménez, who served under President George W. Bush, agrees with ATF's position.
“If he were an ordinary citizen, Agent Dodson would have every right to publish and profit from a book about his experiences, but as a special agent he has to follow the rules," Jiménez said in a statement. "That means he cannot disclose confidential information or receive compensation for the book. I’m sure he will do the math, and if he stands to make more money from the book than from his continued government service, I wouldn’t be surprised to see him resign from the ATF.”
ATF said it was improper to allow Dodson to profit because of Title 5 subsection 2635.807(a) of the Code of Federal Regulations, which states that employees "shall not receive compensation from any source other than the Government for teaching, speaking or writing that relates to the employee’s official duties.”
Dodson appeared on CNN on Tuesday and said the book would provide a "lot more detail and a lot more clear understanding of the operation." The ACLU is backing Dodson, arguing that "unlimited scope" of ATF's restrictions on outside employment are "constitutionally impermissible."